Ban Tourist Helicopters, Elected Officials Say; 2 Bills Could Force Limits

City Councilmember Gale Brewer, NYS Assemblymember Dick Gottfried, Rep. Jerry Nadler, Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine, and others.

By Michael McDowell

A chorus of elected officials from the Upper West Side and beyond delivered a clear message outside the West 30th Street Heliport last week: like many New Yorkers, they’ve had it with the helicopters, and they’re calling on the federal government to do something about it.

“We’re here today to call on the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the U.S. Department of Transportation to support the Improving Helicopter Safety Act,” said Congressman Jerry Nadler, who represents New York’s 10th District.

“This is an urgent problem, affecting New Yorkers every day,” Nadler said, above the din. “Our bill would lead where the FAA has failed, and by banning nonessential helicopters from flying over New York’s covered airspace, keep New Yorkers safer and improve quality of life.”

“The FAA does not comment on pending legislation,” an FAA spokesperson said, when asked for a response to the charges of dereliction and to the bill. The U.S. Department of Transportation has not yet responded to several inquiries. We will update if they do.

“[The helicopters] are a nuisance and a safety hazard to the five boroughs and New Jersey,” said newly elected UWS City Councilmember Gale Brewer, at the presser. “We are tired of this situation and we are not going to stand for it anymore.”

New York has always been noisy, but a growing number of New Yorkers are increasingly incensed about the noise produced by helicopters, the majority of which serve neither public safety nor news gathering, but tourists and affluent commuters.

“New Yorkers registered 7,700 complaints about helicopter noise with 311 in 2020, that’s double [the number] in 2019,” Brewer said. As of the end of September, a remarkable 17,733 complaints regarding helicopters have been recorded this year, and in October, 2,069 additional complaints were recorded, according to Brewer. Consider the 311 operators fielding the calls made by individuals so irate that they have chosen to pick up the phone and call the city.

“Tens of thousands of flights a year. It’s no wonder that the oppressive, disorienting helicopter noise is now an ever-present part of life for so many of us,” Brewer said.

All, often, for a photo op.

Reining in the hordes of helicopters will not be easy; it won’t take an act of God, but it might take an act of Congress. That’s because city and state officials are limited in their ability to act, as regulation of the airspace above New York City is the purview of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

The Improving Helicopter Safety Act would ban most helicopter traffic above New York City, with exceptions for public health and safety, as well as construction. Another bill, the Safe and Quiet Skies Act, would prohibit commercial air tours over national parks, wilderness areas, wildlife refuges, military installations, and national cemeteries.

“Either bill would make a big difference,” explained Rob Gottheim, District Director at Nadler’s office. “I have been with Nadler 23 short years, and have been working on this for at least 20 years.”

Nothing is easy in New York City.

“There was no use in talking to Giuliani,” Gottheim continued. “After Giuliani, it was hard to talk to Bloomberg: not only did the man own helicopters, he was a pilot himself. We were greatly disappointed in de Blasio, we thought [his] plan was a very weak plan. So we want a total ban. It’s kind of crazy that we didn’t do it after 9/11.”

After 9/11, Walt Disney World and Disneyland lobbied for and received no-fly zones above their parks. Why New York City—the primary place where the events of 9/11 occurred—did not receive such a designation is unclear.

“We’re up against the general aviation lobby,” Gottheim said, and they “don’t want to give one inch.”

Will Upper West Siders ever be able to live in peace?

When will we be able to eat a bagel and a schmear in silence? I’m not going to guarantee anything, but we’re going to do our damndest to make sure this happens and we’re committed to making it happen,” Gottheim said.

“Stop the Chop.”

As the press conference wound down—“we need to stop this now before we turn into Sao Paolo,” railed Ken Coughlin, of Community Board 7—the Rag spotted Melissa Elstein, of both Stop the Chop NY/NJ and the West 80s Neighborhood Association. Stop the Chop has a petition to end nonessential helicopter flights over NYC on Change.org that more than 10,000 people have already signed.

“Stop the Chop NY/NJ is an all volunteer organization,” Elstein said. “We’re just community members who are doing this seven days a week because the helicopters are flying seven days a week. I’d rather do other things with my time than fight helicopters,” she laughed.

For those who shake their fists at the racket, Elstein has some context.

“If it’s a commuter, it’s going to roar really fast, very loud, and straight across Central Park. If it’s a tourist, they will circle over Jackie O. Reservoir or Sheep’s Meadow. We have video footage of a Naumberg Concert where you can’t even hear the last note of the symphony because of a helicopter. And now they’re advertising to fly over the Thanksgiving Parade!”

But it isn’t just about quality of life, or the disruption of events like Shakespeare in the Park, a summer symphony, or the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. 

“This is a safety issue, a security issue, a health issue, and an environmental issue—it’s a multi-faceted problem created by a niche industry that’s [causing] suffering for thousands, if not millions,” Elstein said. “It impacts our neighborhood except when it’s stormy or raining. We’ve gotten to the point where we’re praying for inclement weather!”

A spokesperson for Blade, “an urban air mobility platform” which allows people to book spots on scheduled flights and to charter private flights, said in a statement that its competitors are causing the problems.

“We agree with the letter to Secretary Buttigieg and Administrator McDonell that helicopter tour operators such as FlyNYON are causing unnecessary noise disturbances to our community and the doors-off nature of their flights raises significant safety concerns,” the spokesperson said. The spokesperson also said Blade plans to integrate quiet and zero-emission Electric Vertical Aircraft (EVA) on all routes as EVA become available.

Requests for comment from flyNYON, a tour operator, and the Eastern Region Helicopter Council, an industry trade group, have not yet been returned.

Back on the Upper West Side, skies were cloudy, but several choppers were audible in the distance. Enthusiasts and disapprovers alike can follow flights above the Upper West Side at sites such as Flightradar24.

NEWS, OUTDOORS | 32 comments | permalink
    1. UWS Dad says:

      yes!

    2. Paul on W 67 says:

      It’s about time! Although I live on the UWS, this scourge affects other parts of NYC as well. It’s impossible to enjoy the tranquility of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden or have a nice outdoor lunch in DUMBO due to the racket these menaces create.

    3. Anna says:

      Yes, yes, YES! About time. SO sick of them. They hover right over our street on some mornings, sometimes low enough that I can feel the vibration in my chest.
      GO. AWAY.

    4. ST says:

      It’s impossible to enjoy a serene walk around the Reservoir and other Central Park locales due to helicopter joyriders buzzing overhead. Some come from as far away as Boston or Phillie. Why do the citizens of NYC have no say?

    5. bravo says:

      The elected officials know – or should know – that the helipads the leisure/commute helicopters use are on the city-controlled land. So the issue can be greatly improved on if those helipads were taken away from their users/abusers.

    6. Josh says:

      It’s about time. Except, I’m not holding my breath.

    7. Caroline Wood says:

      This is long overdue. The noise is terrible (it really is). The principal is terrible (tourism/commuter helicopter traffic privileges the wealthy few over millions of working New Yorkers). And it’s an obvious danger on so many levels (absolutely anyone with a pilot’s license can fly a private aircraft over NYC at low altitude, it’s so easy to hijack a helicopter mid-flight, etc.).

    8. Charles says:

      Agree with noisy helicopter issues, but in a testament to how reactive and anachronistic these “experienced” politicians are:

      Flying cars are in our near future.

      Why not do some real research and come up with something meaningful that approaches reality instead of solely focusing on the past?

    9. Sean says:

      Companies like FLYNYON must be stopped. Quality of life is plummeting. Everyone should sign the petition with Stop The Chop NYNJ asap!

    10. Joan says:

      These helicopters should be banned from flying over the city. They are a menace and unnecessary. Are you listening Eric Adams.

    11. Ella says:

      Before the pandemic I would make visits to Governor’s Island on the first ferry. Helicopters were circling the Island non-stop. It was extremely unpleasant.

    12. joe_the_accountant says:

      This quote was pretty amusing “Blade plans to “integrate quiet and zero-emission Electric Vertical Aircraft (EVA) on all routes as EVA become available.””

      Electric aircraft that can be used for commercial operations like Blade’s probably won’t be available for a decade or more. The EVA’s currently being prototyped sound like huge drones so this would just be a trade of one type of noise for another.

    13. Erica says:

      1. Sign the petition to start: https://www.change.org/p/faa-and-congress-ban-nonessential-helicopters-over-nyc-regulate-ny-nj-metropolitan-airspace?recruiter=963303773&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=email&recruited_by_id=cbb8a170-7b6c-11e9-8d75-dba3f7b6c60b

      2. Whenever there are hipsters who are hovering or flying too low, report them to 311 via their website at https://portal.311.nyc.gov/

      3. Talk to your neighbors about this. We have to build more support.

    14. Ian Alterman says:

      I have personally been involved in this fight for well over three decades. No change has occurred. Efforts have been made, politicians talk (and even try to act), to no avail. The FAA and DOT are complicit here, and MUST act. That new air traffic laws were not put in place after 9/11 is not simply absurd, but criminal.

      I don’t go to Iowa and barnstorm around in planes, or rent a helicopter in Texas to fly around the Alamo. Why should tourists be allowed to create such havoc here: noise, diesel fuel pollution, etc.? And it’s not like the tourist helicopter industry fills the City coffers: revenue from this is very, very low and would barely be missed.

      Get rid of these things NOW! We already have enough legitimate copter noise with news, weather, traffic, NYPD and commuter copters (and the latter should also be banned).

      • Stop the fake news says:

        Ian, Please stop with the INACCURATE posts. The people actually working to make our neighborhood quieter have had MANY victories:
        2021 – NYC stopped NYC & Company, NYC’s tourist office, from promoting helicopter flights.
        2016 – Stop the Chop NY/NJ and other advocates force a 50% reduction in number of tourist flights allowed from the Downtown Manhattan Heliport from 60,000 to 30,000, and eliminated Sunday tourist flights.
        2016 – Helicopters are required to observe maximum idling times.
        2012 – FAA mandates the NY North Shore Helicopter Route requiring over water route after political pressure.
        2010 – Industry agrees that all tourist flights originating in Manhattan will not fly over Central Park, Governors Island, or Brooklyn. They will not do fly-bys of the Empire State Building.
        2010 – Tourist flights are eliminated from East 30th Street Heliport.
        2010 – No short (<20 minute) tourist flights allowed from Manhattan heliports.
        2005 lawsuit – Tourist flights are eliminated from West 30th Street Heliport.
        1997 – East 34th Street Heliport eliminates all flights on Saturday or Sunday.
        1997 – East 34th Street Heliport restricts hours of operation to 8am-8pm.
        1997 – Mayor Giuliani closes East 60th Street Heliport.
        1977 – Closed heliport on roof of Pan Am (Met Life) Building.
        What have YOU done?

    15. Keith says:

      How about we assert local control over other noise sources: honking horns (especially trucks), over-loud sirens on emergency vehicles (Mt Sinai, I’m looking at you!) and Mr. Softee trucks, to name a few?

      We don’t need FAA approval to enforce local noise laws.

    16. Wanda says:

      Anyone notice how uplifting and pro-America Eric Adams acceptance speech was? Only in America could a success story like his occur. Now contrast that with all the America bashing and hate you hear from Progressives. Can you imagine members of the “Squad” saying the things Adams said? No way. Think about it.

      • Jerry says:

        @ Wanda

        If I’m not mistaken, the so-called “squad” is three people. They are not a stand-in for all things progressive, and they are not even in the leadership of their party or particular governmental institution. Further, their stories happen to have many similarities to Adams’ story, in that they are remarkable examples of hard-working, idealistic and passionate Americans (including immigrants who became U.S. citizens) that “raised themselves up by their bootstraps” to achieve notably. Finally, please don’t confuse loving America very deeply but not sticking one’s head in the sand about where we can and should do better with “America bashing and hate.” That’s a huge misnomer.

        • geoff says:

          Jerry, you stopped me in my tracks. What a relief! I want to praise you for your comment, but realize your writing is simply clear and about what I consider normal thought. So, no praise but a thumbs up.

          Wanna go for a beer?

        • UWS_lifer says:

          I was watching an interview with Eric Adams before the election and he said something to the effect of “I’m not woke…I was never asleep.”

          It was that moment that he got my vote.

          He seems like a very interesting and intelligent guy. We’ll see how he does but I am rooting for the guy. We all should be.

        • Bobby says:

          @Jerry

          The irony is woke Progressives are always claiming (falsely) that America is a racist / white-supremacist nation, yet the political stations of the squad and Adams literally contradicts the whole argument. They’d never be where they are today if the racism claim were true. And would a racist nation ever rescue a young , black Somali girl (Ilhan Omar) from a refugee camp? No. You lack self-awareness.

        • Ground Control says:

          Thank you Jerry!! What Fox inspired poppycock coming from @Wanda. Were it not for progressives this effort to try and restore security and peace to our skies and the neighborhoods below them would not be happening! Bravo for this “liberal” group of New Yorkers. If it does not get traction with this effort, Nadler and Maloney must go directly to the President. The FAA must be reigned in.

    17. David Kimchi says:

      I hope and pray that the number of tourist flights over the city (and particularly over central park) is stopped by good. This is a huge quality of life issue.

    18. JCT says:

      As I am reading this a helicoptor is circling overhead.

    19. Eva says:

      Erica nails it!! (Thanks!!)
      If you’re unhappy, You can Do something!

      “1. Sign the petition to start:

      https://www.change.org/p/faa-and-congress-ban-nonessential-helicopters-over-nyc-regulate-ny-nj-metropolitan-airspace?recruiter=963303773&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=email&recruited_by_id=cbb8a170-7b6c-11e9-8d75-dba3f7b6c60b

      2. Whenever there are hipsters who are hovering or flying too low, report them to 311 via their website at https://portal.311.nyc.gov/
      3. Talk to your neighbors about this. We have to build more support.”

    20. KeepNYQuiet says:

      With the passage of the new NYS constitutional amendment providing for a right to healthful environment, can’t anyone now just sue the helicopter companies for violating this through persistent noise pollution? Any public interest lawyers here?

    21. Ted says:

      It would be interesting to see the breakdown of the reasons for each of these flights. It has been my perception in 30 years on the West Side that the increase has largely been driven by helicopter tourism. The vast majority of these flights seem to use the 79th Boat Basin as a turn around point. Commuters, media and military often seem to be on different flight paths. Military flights do go up the Hudson but only rarely turn around at the Boat Basin.

    22. Daddyrocks says:

      My 8 year old can’t fall asleep with all of the helicopter noise.

    23. BethB says:

      I’m so glad this issue is getting the attention it deserves. Credit to the Stop the Chop board for persistence. The relentless noise is a mental health issue. Just when you want to chill out, they choppers come one after the other.

    24. DrM says:

      Um, you’re NEVER going to be able to “eat a bagel and schmear in silence”. You live in NYC. We don’t do anything in silence here because there is no silence here. Are you new? We are “the city that never sleeps”, always have been, remember? It’s quite obvious that most complaints about this matter are coming from 1) People who are at home during the day, i.e. newly minted Covid workers, retirees, wealthy non-working parents, etc., and 2) KAREN. Newsflash – NYC is not the place to settle when one seeks the quiet life. Bye.