As Commuter ‘Copter Service Gets Set to Start Up, the ‘Helicopter Highway’ Over the UWS Could Get More Crowded


There’s a growing movement to curb helicopter traffic.

By Scott Fischbein

Upper West Siders have been growing more stressed about helicopters hovering over the neighborhood for the past year, and now it looks like a whole new fleet may be on its way.

Two companies — Blade and Ross Aviation — are teaming up to offer commuter helicopter rides between New York City and Westchester County Airport, with service starting as soon as this month.

New Yorkers have spent more time at home over the past year than ever before, and police and television helicopters hovered over the city during protests over the summer. City records show a 130% increase in calls about the issue of noise pollution from helicopters, despite there being a four-month period at the beginning of the pandemic when tourist flights over the city were suspended. “This is really a quality of life issue for New Yorkers,” Robert Gottheim, a spokesman for Congressman Jerry Nadler, said in an interview.

Blade, which did not respond to requests for comments, hopes to launch daily flights to the Westchester County Airport from Manhattan’s West 30th Street heliport, which along with the East 34th Street and the Pier 6 (also known as the Wall Street heliport), are the three heliports in Manhattan. The flights are expected to start in March, cost $175 per person and take 12 minutes. Blade stated in a press release that it hopes that the option for people to commute to work in Manhattan from Westchester and Connecticut via helicopter will cut down on pollution from cars. Blade does not own a helicopter fleet, but instead, much like Uber, arranges helicopter flights on behalf of operators and clients to depart NYC for destinations up to 200 miles away. It’s also working on launching Electric Vertical Aircraft service for commuter flights, which it expects to be ready by 2025, and allow the industry to reduce noise and carbon emissions.

Blade’s commuter helicopter plans face pushback from people who have grown tired of the buzz, believing the service promotes the industry and its wealthy clients over the peace of mind of average New Yorkers.

Melissa Elstein and Andrew Rosenthal are on the board of Stop the Chop, a tax-exempt organization that aims to reduce the noise and environmental pollution of helicopters over the city. In an interview, they referred to the Upper West Side as a “helicopter highway,” where the noise is oppressive for residents. “For the person on the ground this [expanded helicopter routes] will affect them mentally and physically, and in terms of environmental impact this always affects poorer communities more heavily. There’s no way to get to the Westchester airport without flying over peoples homes…For the average person during en economic downturn, commuting by helicopter just isn’t an option,” Elstein explained during a phone interview. “Millions of New Yorkers are suffering for the convenience of the .1%.”

Previous actions taken by the city do not appear to have made a significant dent in the frequency of helicopter traffic. In 2016, New York City reached an agreement with the Pier 6 heliport to limit the amount of tourist flights over the city by 50% and to restrict all non-essential flights on Sundays. However, tourist and commuter helicopters can simply depart from New Jersey heliports instead and then enter New York City airspace. Although the city and the industry agreed to make commuter helicopters stay over the Hudson or East River, opponents say that companies don’t always abide by those rules — and even if they do, helicopter noise can travel for up to two miles. “Water routes are not a panacea,” Rosenthal said.

Stop the Chop is a supporter of H.R. 4880, the Improving Helicopter Safety Act of 2019. The bill was introduced by Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney in 2019 and is now being co-sponsored by Congressmembers Jerry Nadler, Nydia Velazquez, Yvette Clarke, Jose Serrano, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. It would seek to remedy the limitations of previous legislation and agreements between residents, the city, the aviation industry, and federal agencies. The bill would prohibit all nonessential helicopter flights, including waterways within the city’s jurisdiction — allowing for the continued presence of law enforcement, emergency response, military and news media helicopters in city airspace, while prohibiting tourist or commuter flights, even those coming from New Jersey.

For some, such legislation is not only necessary to make the city livable, but safe as well. “We’ve been lucky how few helicopter crashes we’ve had in New York City…our airspace is currently like the Wild West,” Gottheim said. “We have an uncontrolled airspace that operates on visual flight rules of ‘see and avoid’ without any beacon based controls.”

The office of Borough President Gale Brewer voiced its support for a solution to complaints about helicopter safety, noise and pollution in a phone interview. In December 2020, Brewer’s office helped to convene a task force that includes industry representatives, community associations, the FAA and New Jersey local politicians. The task force plans to meet again in March.

“At the March meeting, we’ll use the information we gathered to brainstorm solutions and legislation with NJ,” Brewer’s office emailed. “Also, through our NJ outreach, we’ve learned that there is interest in regulating the industry and that pending legislation exists. For example, NJ introduced S479 in 2020 to ban all tourism helicopters. That would be AMAZING if it got passed!”

Brewer believes that the tourist helicopters “appear to be the main noise contributors,” with commuter, police and news flights less of an issue at the moment, her office said.

Complaints about helicopters are not just limited to New York City. Similar groups have been started in other areas, from East Hampton to the Grand Canyon and Hawaii.

Rob Burke, the executive director of Hudson River Community Sailing said that in addition to the noise, the pollution produced at the West 34th Heliport makes sailing both unpleasant and unhealthy for people trying to enjoy the wilderness of New York City waterways. “I never smell car exhaust coming off of the Westside Highway, but I always smell the jet fuel of idling helicopters at that heliport. It’s essentially like being next to an airport,” he said. A 2006 study done by the Dutch government concluded that helicopters emit 3 to 5 times as much carbon emissions as diesel-burning cars do per mile.

“We have to have a balance between the valuable portion of the City’s tourism industry and the health and safety of the residents of New York,” Gottheim said. “We don’t want an industry that’s so loud, so polluting, so dangerous and so poorly regulated expanding in New York City.”

NEWS | 55 comments | permalink
    1. good humor says:

      articles like these make me think there’s no room for me in NYC.

    2. Ben David says:

      Congressman Jerry Nadler could have solved this problem a couple of years ago, but he’s been too busy impeaching Donald Trump. It’s long overdue for our Representative to pay attention to local issues of the people who vote for him, term after term, on the UWS.

      • Steve Downey says:

        I don’t think you’re right, Ben. The democrats (Gillibrand) did have a bill to require that older, noisier helicopters using the Hudson corridor be phased out over time. It never got out of committee. Where did you get your info? What did Nadler not do? I’d like to know. Thanks.

        • Tes says:

          2/1/21 NYC Council and Committee on Economic Development had a public hearing via zoom. I’m sure you can watch the whole meeting. NYC council proposed a ruling only permitting “quieter” aircraft to utilize the NYC owned helipads.. Look up NYC Council legislation; Int. 2026 which was proposing to only permit Stage 3 helicopters. Good move but there is only 1 ever made! The FAA implemented a rule back in 2014 and yet as of today, only 1 stage 3 manufactured. Google Stage 3 helicopters on the FAA.gov website. The industry benefits. The public suffers.

      • Tr says:

        Explain how

    3. Adam Greene says:

      The noise pollution from helicopters is wreaking havoc on NYC. So much work has gone into making Central Park feel like a beautiful sanctuary, instead the park sounds like a war zone with constant noise from helicopters flying low overhead. This is such a big quality of life issue. We cannot allow tourists joyriding in from NJ do this to us.

      • Tes says:

        You are absolutely right! Please file aircraft noise complaints to 311. To monitor the make and model of the aircraft : http://www.flightradar24.com
        Email your state and federal officials multiple times. Sadly, Once is never enough. Get your neighbors to also file complaints. “It takes a village” to make change happen.

    4. Sean says:

      This is a real problem. Everyone should sign the Stop the Chop petition. Lets take back control of our parks and neighborhood!

    5. Stef Lev says:

      more crowded leads to more accidents!

    6. Judith Norell says:

      I have signed petitions to prohibit the increased permits for helicopters, but it seems as if Big Business prevails, in spite of opposition by such as Gale Brewer or Jerry Nadler. Distressing.

    7. gail says:

      As someone who enjoys our building’s communal roof space, the helicopters have plagued us. Only when everything came to a standstill during the pandemic did we realize the enormous difference in quality of life with quiet skies. I fear it will take a terrible accident for stricter ‘copter guidelines to be set. For now, support Stop the Chop.

    8. Bruce Rosen says:

      Congressman Serrano retired at the end of the last session.

    9. Ethan says:

      Helicopters routinely ruin my otherwise bucolic Riverside Park experience.

      • nemo paradise says:

        “Bucolic Riverside Park?” I just spat coffee all over my laptop.

        I hate the choppers too. But if a narrow strip of turf and shrubbery bordered by a highway and an industrial waterway is your idea of “bucolic,” then helicopters should be as welcome as hummingbirds.

    10. good humor says:

      I knew things would get loud when they got rid of the ‘No Honking” signs. This is merely an extension.

    11. Lorna B. says:

      the helicopter noise is making life unbearable on the whole west side

    12. Farnham says:

      Who thinks this is a good idea.?
      Is this “21st Century Progress?”

    13. Lianne Ritchie says:

      Is this part of the vision of NYC Future Tense ?

    14. 72RSD says:

      “Blade stated in a press release that it hopes that the option for people to commute to work in Manhattan from Westchester and Connecticut via helicopter will cut down on pollution from cars.”

      This is honestly hysterical. Are they seriously arguing a helicopter pollutes less (and consumes less fuel) than a car?

      Funniest thing I’ve read all day.

    15. DrM says:

      Somebody help me here. I’ve lived a block and a half from Central Park near 72nd Street for almost 13 years. I have never once noticed a helicopter that bothered me. Sure, I see or hear them on occasion. During the marathon, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, the 4th of July and the like. Sometimes they’re present just to look out for and protect me. I also understand that I live in Manhattan, very gratefully in one of it’s most desirable residential neighborhoods, and that intermittent helicopters show up to broadcast what, quite literally, most of the world can only hope to visit let alone live. “Pretend It’s A City”. It’s busy. It can be loud. It’s filled with interesting people and unique experiences. Love it or leave it. Just please stop complaining about it.

      • your_neighbor says:

        Thank you DrM for the sanity. I’ve lived in the 70’s off of RSD for about 30 years and the helicopters have never bothered me. The only ones that are particularly loud are the military helicopters that tend to fly in formation but that is very rare and perhaps the police and news helicopters when there is an event/accident/fire/crime/etc and they basically parking in one spot in the sky.
        99% of helicopter events are not particularly loud and are over in 10 seconds.
        West siders always need to whine about something.

      • MQue says:

        Thank you! People are acting like this is the Hudson valley.

      • Helen says:

        How nice for you that you’re not bothered by the noise and you feel comforted by the presence of ‘intermittent,’ helicopters. For those of us who are located between Broadway and Riverside (including park goers) it sounds like we’re living in a war zone, and the continuous noise and the proximity to the buildings is alarming.

        And the article states, ‘…and now it looks like a whole new fleet may be on its way.’

        I’ll definitely be signing the petition!

      • w 71st resident says:

        If it doesn’t bother you– that’s wonderful! However, as your neighbor, I can say that I really don’t enjoy the helicopter buzz at all. (I totally understand the need for emergency services to have access to helicopters, but the NJ tourist helicopters are deeply annoying.) Excess noise and fuel pollution can have negative effects on public health, with especially negative impacts on children.

        I honestly don’t understand the “love it or leave it” attitude. If you love a place, wouldn’t you want to make it better? Why wouldn’t I want to improve my neighborhood?

      • Ken says:

        It doesn’t bother you because the east-west corridor is between 86th and 96th streets, and the Central Park tourist helicopters spend most of their time hovering in the over and near the reservoir (90th St or so).

      • The times they are a changing.. says:

        For the past four years your apartment has been in the one mile no fly zone around Trump Tower. That disappeared a few weeks ago. Most flights go across town around 88th Street. That may start to change.

    16. Steven says:

      We can’t allow this to go forward. The helicopter problem is already unbearable for New York City residents. Sign the Stop the Chop petition on MoveOn.org. Call 311 to complain about helicopter noise. And write to all of our elected officials: Reps Nadler, Maloney, Velasquez,Ocassio-Cortez as well as Gail Brewer and Senators Schumer and Gillibrand. The legislation in the House of Representatives must pass. All non-residential helicopter traffic needs to be banned over dense areas such as New York City. And this includes over our waterways.

      • Steven says:

        Correction: Sign the Stop the Chop petition on Change.org

      • Tes says:

        http://Www.council.nyc.gov – complete list of members. Councilwoman Margaret S. Chin, Mark Levine, Carlos Menchaca , Keith Powers are all aware of this terrible situation. Please email them pictures, video, Low flightpaths of the aircraft to keep reminding them of how these choppers are polluting the skies, producing noise and are unsafe. Google: FAA crash resistant fuel system in helicopters. There is a a lot of information about this. Plz help inform the NYC council.

    17. Crawdad says:

      Within a few years, helicopters will be electric and extremely quiet. So long-term, I don’t think this is an issue. Five years and fleets will be electric.

      • John says:

        I heard they will be covered with solar panels and the turbine blade will also produce electricity. Will be nice watching them fly over the thousands of windmills that will be in and along the Hudson River and Riverside park.

        • nemo paradise says:

          Solar-powered helicopters are a pipe dream, but I hear that there is new carbon-capture technology that turns internal combustion exhaust emissions into pixie dust, so that would solve the carbon problem. As for the racket, I suggest we simply add earmuffs to our mask ensembles — by the time it’s safe for us to go barefaced, science will have invented more effective noise-cancelling helicopter mufflers.

      • Not Smoking Dope says:

        Ever heard a small drone. Not so quiet. Now multiply x1000 for the power to lift a full size helicopter. Maybe less noisy than the current choppers, but NOT quiet.

    18. Tes says:

      Please file complaints to 311. Data rules. Data drives change. Officials can’t ignore valid aircraft noise complaints. Also, take a few minutes of your day and take snapshots of the low overflights along with the aircraft flightpath and send to the Feds and NYC council with a message: quality of life needs to be addressed. Stop the overflights and pollution. To monitor live aircraft: http://www.flightradar24.com! You can help make a difference! File noise complaints!

    19. Tes says:

      *Safety is also a huge issue here that many aren’t aware of. Google: Grand Canyon helicopter crashed ‘could have been prevented’ UK News. This tourist helicopter was NOT equipped with a crash resistant fuel system. Google: FAA crash resistant fuel system-Helicopters. There’s a full list of which helicopters which are compliant. http://www.FAA.gov “Helicopter Models Complaint with FULL CRFS”. Missing from list : Sikorsky s76. Safety is a huge issue here!

    20. VanVorst says:

      Any location with major helicopter traffic has grass roots groups trying to shut them down. Their noise is too loud and their noise footprint is too wide to effectively mitigate. The FAA and the industry could care less about the noise impacts to those on the ground. There are two components to the noise – the decibel level and the low frequency bass. The low frequency is especially bad with choppers – it’s what rattles your walls/china/windows. People have a right to peaceful enjoyment of their homes and helicopters negatively impact that daily if you are unlucky enough to live anywhere near their paths. The only solution is to ban non-essential helicopters. They provide a benefit to a miniscule sliver of wealthy users and burden countless residents simply trying to enjoy their homes, parks, etc.

    21. VanVorst says:

      Gale Brewer is mistaken if she thinks commuter flights aren’t a serious part of the problem. Commuter, air taxis, are in hyper growth mode. The Hamptons, JFK, Westchester, DC anywhere rich people congregate all have chopper routes to spare the .01% the indignities of highways and trains. East Hampton had over 9000 chopper operations in 2019 alone, most of which originated in NYC. These numbers double when you include other Hamptons, Westchester, Nantucket bound flights. The commuter flights are twin engine heavy corporate helicopters which are exponentially louder than the single engine models used by heli-tour companies. These flights make heli-tour noise seem quaint and there are tons of them. Instead of coddling the extremely wealthy how about politicians focus on improving roads/trains etc on these popular routes for the greater good of everyone.

    22. lynn says:

      Is there any way for an individual to find out why helicopters are hovering over the low 70’s near WEA and the river? They were there last night from approx 10:00 pm past midnight. This morning they were there from 9:00 am through 10:30. The Citizen app sends alerts when there’s police activity (oddly enough it sounds like a helicopter is in the apt) but there have been no alerts this week.

      • Helen says:

        Hello Lynn, I don’t know if you’re still hearing them, but I got home at 4:30 today and they’ve been buzzing back and forth for over an hour. I can’t see them well enough to ID them though. It’s very nerve-racking!

        • lynn says:

          I see you posted this yesterday, and I think we can both attest to the fact that the activity still hasn’t let up. I would just like to know if it’s the police (and what the heck is going on?), in which case I suppose we can’t really complain about it. 🙁

    23. Ian Alterman says:

      I was involved in this issue THIRTY YEARS AGO when the Helicopter Noise Coalition first formed. I wrote about it in Op-Eds in West Side Beat (a now-defunct free paper). I worked on it with CB7 and local pols. After 9/11, I thought that common sense would prevail, and the FAA would put greater restrictions on the air space above Manhattan. Nope. And this was despite the heavy lobbying and legislative efforts of people like Jerry Nadler (who was a State Assemblyman before he became a House rep), Scott Stringer, Gale Brewer, and many others.

      Keep in mind that merely introducing legislation is not enough: it has to pass with a majority vote. And whether it is the State Assembly, State Senate, or City Council, NONE of them has been willing to take this on and pass helpful legislation – despite many crashes, many deaths, too much noise, public outcry, and the fact that the income derived by the City from helicopter tours and commuting is relatively miniscule. 🙁

    24. Joe, An Avgeek says:

      These crybabies can stand down. It’s the sound of freedom.

    25. Bill Mahoney says:

      Media helicopters are one of the biggest offenders at flying at a low altitude causing excessive noise. We now have apps and the internet for traffic conditions.