Helicopter Noise Complaints Sky High as Anxious, Cooped-Up New Yorkers Feel Buzzed

This article was originally published on by THE CITY

A helicopter takes from West 30th Street V.I.P Heliport in Manhattan, Nov. 12, 2020. Hiram Alejandro Durán/THE CITY

By Jose Martinez, THE CITY

Complaints to 311 about helicopters noisily hovering above New York have soared this year — with an analysis by THE CITY showing a more than 130% increase over 2019.

The 7,758 chopper noise complaints this year through Friday are over 4,400 more than were registered on 311 all of last year. The calls are coming as many New Yorkers work from home during the pandemic.

“It’s just hell on a nice day,” said Melodie Bryant, 71, who lives on the fourth floor of a Chelsea brownstone. “There have been times when the helicopters flew so low that I have wanted to run into the street screaming.”

New 311 data shows that chopper noise reports peaked in October with 1,443 complaints — up from 528 during the same period a year earlier.

This month is on pace to surpass October: As of Friday, 679 complaints had been logged in November.

The numbers have surged even with sightseeing trips emanating from the city-owned Downtown Manhattan Heliport banned from mid-March through late July.

The 108 tour trips in October that originated from the heliport — the only one in Manhattan that allows such jaunts — amounted to just 5% of the volume from a year ago, according to the city’s Economic Development Corporation, which also oversees the East 34th Street Heliport.

‘More Aware’

Rep. Carolyn Maloney, who unsuccessfully sought a federal ban on all “non-essential” helicopter traffic over the city after last year’s fatal chopper crash atop a Seventh Avenue skyscraper, told THE CITY the increase in noise complaints is likely driven by multiple factors.

Maloney said those include more helicopters coming in from outside of the city, where they are not subject to New York’s regulations. She also pointed to the NYPD’s use of choppers during protests last summer, along with private chauffeuring by companies like Blade and Uber Copter.

“And yes, people who are working from home are going to be more aware of when helicopters fly over their home during the day,” said Maloney, a Democrat whose East River-spanning district encompasses Manhattan’s East Side, Roosevelt Island, Astoria and Greenpoint. “So it appears to be the perfect storm of exacerbating factors.”

The bulk of the complaints through the first 10 months of the year, according to 311 data, have come from Manhattan — with 2,106 logged from a single community board that extends along the East Side from 14th to 59th streets.

Residents of community board districts that include several Queens neighborhoods, the Upper West Side and the Brooklyn waterfront were also among those making the most complaints.

“You’ll be trying to take a stroll along Brooklyn Bridge Park or in that waterfront area, but there is one every couple of minutes,” said Lara Birnback, executive director of the Brooklyn Heights Association. “They’re so loud, it’s so oppressive.”

Complaints about helicopter noise are also frequently posted to Twitter by critics who use apps such as Flight Radar 24 to track the path and altitude of flights over the city.

“This is a well-dispersed problem and you layer in the commuters, the police, the television helicopters, it’s constant,” said Andrew Rosenthal, of Stop the Chop NY NJ, an organization pushing to ban non-essential helicopter trips.

Out-of-Towners Skirt City Regs

Maloney said many tourism helicopter businesses have moved out of the city to dodge New York regulations that apply only to those based in the five boroughs.

“New Jersey and Connecticut officials could step up and regulate, but they’re making money off this industry,” she said. “It’s not their citizens who are bearing the burden, so they have no incentive to act.”

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer has invited officials from New York and New Jersey to next month join a “helicopter task force” that a spokesperson said will focus on tourist flights. Brewer also will seek information from the NYPD and television stations on their helicopter use over the city, the spokesperson said.

City Economic Development Corp. officials said the lack of tours out of the Downtown Heliport points to the noise complaints clearly being about flights out of other chopper bases not regulated by the city.

Those include doors-off sightseeing trips from the New Jersey-based company, FlyNYON, whose helicopter was involved in a 2018 East River crash in which five tourists were killed.

“A lot of this is driven by people taking ‘shoe selfies,’ with their shoelaces undone over the city,” said Rosenthal. “These things are a public nuisance.”

FlyNYON did not respond to calls and emails seeking comment.

‘The Noise Makes You Crazy’

The Federal Aviation Administration said it does not keep data on helicopter flights over the city. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which oversees the area’s major airports, did not respond to a request for comment.

A spokesperson for the Helicopter and Tourism Jobs Council, which represents the tour companies flying out of the Downtown Manhattan Heliport, said those operators “maintain strict compliance” with a 2016 agreement that capped the number of monthly flights and set over-water routes for New York Harbor and the Hudson River.

“Tour operators from downtown… are rarely, if ever, found to be the source of noise complaints,” said the spokesperson, Sam Goldstein. “As with most companies in the tourism and hospitality industries in the city, especially those dependent on international visitors, the pandemic has devastated their businesses.”

Bryant and Birnback both said they believe the increase in 311 helicopter noise complaints would be even higher if the process of filing a grievance weren’t so laborious.

“Once you do it like five or six times, and nothing happens, people give up,” Bryant said. “I have felt like such a selfish kvetch for doing this when the nation is in such trouble, but the noise just makes you crazy.”

THE CITY is an independent, nonprofit news outlet dedicated to hard-hitting reporting that serves the people of New York.

NEWS | 36 comments | permalink
    1. Jay says:

      At least on the UWS a lot of that unnecessary helicopter noise pollution comes from the massive over use of NYPD helicopters.

      But what’s the point of complaining when the NYPD will just say something about “Antifa”, or protesters numbering in the 20s.

      • Do your homework says:

        Wonder if you really bother to check who’s flying above our heads before guessing it’s all NYPD. Download Flightradar24 app and inform yourself: the vast majority are FlyNYON helicopters, some are tv stations or police, others are private helicopters commuting rich people from the Hamptons.

    2. D. Rochira says:

      It is not the NYPD, it is coming mostly from tourist helicopters originating in Newark. In one weekend, it was documented there were over 50 flights. I live in an area greatly effected by the noise and have followed this issue closely. Also, the worst noise is on the weekends (sunny Sundays are really noisy) so not related to the work from home complaints.

      • Lisa says:

        Agree it is the tourist helicopters that make spending any time in Central Park on a Saturday or Sunday a stressful and unpleasant experience. First Covid and now we can’t even spend time in the Park? Can someone explain what law needs to be changed to stop this. It’s unacceptable.

        • davidaron60 says:

          The FAA has designated a flight path for helis crossing Manhattan that runs right over Central Park and just north of Roosevelt Island, according to sources, so that would have to be changed.

    3. Truth and Reason says:

      I used to live in Washington DC along the Marine One flight path. And I swear to goodness I have seen more of those freaking NYPD choppers over the Upper West this year than I did in three years in Washington. They hover and they hover and they hover. Let’s say for example that there is some sort of random riot or something that breaks out. What are they going to do about it from all the way up in the sky? Just, cut it out, people.

      • jezbel says:

        I used to be a traffic/news reporter for WNBC back in the day. We used to know every helicopter that was in the sky every day of the week. Whether it was sightseeing, NYPD or other radio/TV stations. There was some seaplane traffic flying into Wall St. then. After the fatal accident of a traffic reporter from my station helicopter traffic abated for a while. I can honestly say there is 3 times the helicopter traffic now than there was in the late 1990s. No accident seems too big to stop it. More people are flying to Long Island, Connecticut than ever. Tourists can afford to share the cost of a ride. The very wealthy have their own pilots or corporate pilots. Until a few months ago I lived at 76th & B’way with an unobstructed view of the Hudson. The sunsets were beautiful but the noise was horrendous. Tourist flight would overfly 72nd Street up to 76th, 77th, 78th & the head west toward NJ. Air traffic up & down the Hudson is as bad as air traffic up & down the East River. It’s a quality-of-life issue. And it’s lousy.

    4. AC says:

      This has become a quality of life issue. Trying to enjoy the crisp fall air with your windows open is impossible when you are yanked out of sleep each morning by the sound of a helicopter seemingly hovering right over your building. People are working from home much more these days and while doing so they should be able to find some peace, quiet and enjoyment by taking walks in Central and Riverside Park. They shouldn’t have to deal with being bombarded by yet ANOTHER overwhelming noise. Between the emergency sirens, unnecessary car honking, and helicopters, it can feel impossible to ever fully relax and enjoy our neighborhood.

      Aside from how disruptive the helicopters are, this is perhaps one of the most asinine online trends I’ve ever heard of: “A lot of this is driven by people taking ‘shoe selfies,’ with their shoelaces undone over the city,” said Rosenthal.’ Unbelievable.

    5. Susan says:

      Haha I am *literally* listening to a helicopter overhead as I read this.

    6. Peter says:

      Ban flights over the city on Sundays. Give us a break from the noise.

    7. H says:

      I see and hear helicopters regularly on the UWS. And they fly low. Scary and annoying. I’ve taken pictures of 3 or 4 at a time from my roof, which is up very high. Probably useless.

    8. Cordcutter says:

      Imagine living below a frequent flight path for JFK LGA or EWR.
      Last night a cargo plane flew overhead and it was loud and scary.
      Helicopters are nothing compared to the massive 7 series Boeings that fly overhead.
      Do your homework and Rochira are right.
      They’ve also been leaving from more NJ locations recently because of the incessant complaints about chopper noise leaving from the 3 main hubs in Manhattan.

    9. Brett Lyon says:

      Because residents here need just one more reason to abandon this mess. Done.

    10. Wendy R. says:

      As someone who’s family member works for a local television chopper, please know that most choppers have a flight restriction near and over Trump Tower – mainly all midtown so they probably have to use work around your area in order to get a shot of a building or accident in midtown. Also, if a tv chopper is above you, probably something serious happened. They tend to use either the Hudson or East river for traffic shots since they have to hover for a while.

      Now, NYPD tends to use the area from Central Park North to Westside Columbus for training. That means they go in circles for an hour or two. I believe because of fewer tall buildings in that area. I live near so I hear them all the time on weekends.

      Yes, the sightseeing choppers are the ones that stay for a while above you so clients can take a cool pic. I’ve been on FLYNYON for my wedding.

      Either way, we all have to get by. We all have to work. TV choppers are keeping us informed while we stay in our cozy home working. I am not quite happy with NYPD using the UWS as a training area but it is what it is I suppose. And the tourists’ choppers? – I have mixed feelings.

    11. Martha says:

      You think helicopter noise is bad, try waking up to sanitation trucks at @5:30 am three times a week. But I’d rather hear them than have garbage on the streets. Ah… New York sounds, either love it or leave it.

    12. Daniel Cullen says:

      This is so annoying and is a constant problem on the UWS!! They should really do something about this, the fumes are annoying sometimes too.

    13. Christina says:

      It’s about the same annoyance as listening to helicopter parents!

    14. K Goldman says:

      Use ‘airnoisereport.com’ to make complaints. The more the better. At least they will be recorded which is more than I can say about 311.

    15. Lynette says:

      I consider Garbage trucks and sirens to be a part of living in New York, they pass by. This is different. People are making money at our expense. If you go on http://www.flynyon.com, they charge 718.00 to fly over with doors off at night, They schedule flights from 9:00Am – 6:15PM,anytime the sun is out, while us below are trying to work from home. This is a quality of life issue. Sometimes there are 3 at once, one going in the park, one hovering over and one leaving, that fly right over my house. It feels like I am living in the movie “Platoon. It’s just not right.

    16. Apache Guy says:

      There was an Apache (military) helicopter over lower Manhattan and the Brooklyn waterfront last weekend. I couldn’t help but feel like I was in the scene from apocalypse now when the Huey’s fly in.

      So many helicopters over the Brooklyn Bridge, it’s concerning.

    17. Bill says:

      Please support federal legislation to ban tourist helicopter traffic over NYC and its rivers. The noise is the exhaust of ‘influencers’ shooting videos for social media. It needs to stop. Also, wear a mask.

    18. sudden_eyes says:

      As I type, at 10:45 on a weekday morning, I can hear at least one helicopter from our apartment on West 86th Street. It is constant – and I have been working from home for a decade. It’s far worse now than it was a year ago.

    19. oldtommyUWS says:

      The heavy choppers used by the Masters of the Universe to and from LGA and the East End of Long Island use flight paths from the 34th St. heliport along the Hudson and turn east through a corridor between W. 80th and W. 90th Sts, sometimes directly over W. 86th St. They sound like they’re flying though your kitchen with noise like thunder. They obey the height and route restrictions? Baloney. Senators Schumer and Gillibrand are nowhere to be found. Nadler and Maloney support a ban but get no help from the preening Pelosi.

    20. Jo Baldwin says:

      And when there’s another crash of a commercial chopper all the politicians will be wringing their hands and the mayor will be demanding action be taken and, yadda, yadda, yadda, until another one goes down.
      And the beat goes on . . .

    21. JH says:

      When you are in Central Park it is pretty annoying to have those tourist helicopters (usually 2 at a time) hovering over the reservoir. What would Olmsted and Vaux say? I seem to recall about a year ago an article in the WSR that said that Congressman Nadler was working on this. because Shakespeare in the Park was complaining. I hope he is working with Congresswoman Maloney. Rep Espaillat too?

    22. Ken says:

      In my experience very few of the helicopters over the UWS are news or police helicopters. The vast majority are the thunderous airport shuttles (crossing over the 86th St/96th St corridor) or the tourist helicopters hovering over the CPW reservoir and Great Lawn. For those of us under these flight paths, this has become a huge quality of life issue.

    23. Peter Post says:

      Last year there were numerous daily flights over the Great Lawn in Central Park. The constant noise was nerve racking. Since Covid-19 these flights have greatly diminished. But I expect they will resume when the pandemic is over. I have numerous photos of these flights showing photographers hanging out of open doors with their feet dangling over the slide. I complained to my NYS Assembly Member loading my photos on one of her office computers. She tells me she can do nothing.
      Please see: https://verticalmag.com/news/flynyon-safety-concerns-remain-accident/

    24. AC says:

      Happening right now, 6:46am, over West 86th Street. The noise began before it was light outside, probably around 6:15am, and there’s no end in sight.

    25. Florian says:

      A news helicopter appears to be filming a traffic jam on West Side HWY this morning since about 6AM. I imagine there is stock footage they could use? Or maybe someone could point out that it’s 2020 and you can use drones for that?

      • E.B. says:

        Seriously, this morning around 6 am was insanely loud and it would just not stop. I think it went on for an hour.

    26. J. L. Rivers says:

      I just got spoken up a few minutes ago by a helicopter hovering over the UWS. So @#&*-+= annoying.
      Now I hear sirens…

    27. Sean L says:

      95% of the helicopter traffic, noise and air pollution is coming from FLYNYON. I have spoken with their managers over the phone and they even admit they are allowed to travel wherever and whenever. Early morning till late at night and all over the city. It doesn’t matter to them. We need to change this!

    28. Thursday 11/19/20 6am– What a racket, and in the middle of my migraine; put in earplugs, sealed windows tight, inserted pillows between the shades and the window glass, to no avail.

      I started deep and slow abdominal breathing, pausing momentarily after inbreaths & outbreaths (to build up my carbon dioxide stores- carbon dioxide relaxes, while oxygen energizes) & constricting my throat so that my breathing became louder, as a kind of white noise to block the incoming noise a little. It went on for an hour.

      I couldn’t think of anything else to do.

    29. Gus says:

      It has gotten out of control over central park, I notice it more on weekends. I assumed it was NYPD because a lot of the time they hover, which is so incredibly annoying. If they are over central park they are in New York’s airspace which reaches from the surface to 10,000 feet. So they would need to be talking to New York approach control, or more likely the Newark or La Guardia control towers who have to give them approval to fly into the airspace and hover. I’m surprised they allow hovering for tourists which is why I figured it was NYPD. If it is NYPD, I’d love to know our helicopter budget… I listen to them hover and just think about thousands of dollars being burned up to produce the noise and emissions.

      If it is tourists, a simple solution would be to nudge the Newark and La Guardia control towers not to clear helicopters to hover or circle. The controllers don’t have to have a good reason or even give a reason. That would stop it.

      • jezbel says:

        After 9/11 there was a rules change in flight patterns in and around the City. It was great for a while. No air traffic above Manhattan at all. It was peaceful and calm. But little by little as time passed & the PTSD started to subside more TV stations from the City & from NJ & CN started flying into the City on faster, more powerful jet helicopters. Much noisier than the old piston choppers before 9/11. Commuters started sharing ride on corporate copters so a need for bigger more powerful engines were necessary. Soon it was like aerial buses commuting to & from LI, the Hamptons, Upstate, NJ. Next came the tourists who wanted to see ground-zero, and other sites. Then the copters for filming TV show & movies – flying without doors. Then promoted photo-shoot flights were being promoted to tourists, the one with people hanging their feet out the window and taking a pic of their shoes.
        Also the ceiling on traffic over the City,traversing the City seems considerable lower than the once required 2000ft. They travel way under that altitude these days. Something needs to be done. There WILL be another accident like the one that happened a few years back where they were night-flying photo shoot over the east river and it went down in the water. A bunch of young people died still strapped in. Insufficient devices for them to cut their seat belts. It will happen again.

    30. Maureen Melle says:

      Last Saturday I saw a red helicopter circling around the Penn South Co-op, where I live. It circled for quite a while I knew that it was the wrong color for the NYPF and I checked with the Flight Radar app, which did list the flight, but the only information I was able to find was that it was a private helicopter. I couldn’t figure out why anyone would be so interested in our co-op and guessed that they must be looking at near-by Hudson Yards, but that helicopter was clearly down by us. Not over at Hudson Yards. It wasn’t just a flyover. I don’t know what the point was.