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Reps. Nadler, Maloney, Velazquez Introduce Legislation to Address NYC's Helicopter Safety Needs

Bill Comes After Years of Flight Accidents and Noise Pollution in NYC

Washington, October 26, 2019

New York, NY — Today, Representatives Jerrold Nadler (NY-10), Carolyn B. Maloney (NY-12), and Nydia M. Velazquez (NY-07) joined local elected officials and community groups to announce the introduction of their Improving Helicopter Safety Act of 2019.

New York City is one of the most densely populated cities in the United States and has one of the highest rates of helicopter use in the world, which creates intolerable safety risks to the community and negatively impacts the quality of life of its residents. The Improving Helicopter Safety Act of 2019 would improve residents’ safety and reduce noise pollution by prohibiting nonessential helicopters from flying within New York City airspace and drastically reduce helicopter traffic.

The safety and well-being of New Yorkers cannot be compromised for the sake of tourism or convenience.

“This past June, we were all reminded of the safety threat posed by non-essential helicopters when a pilot attempted to make an emergency landing and crashed into the AXA Equitable Center in my district in Midtown Manhattan. My colleagues and I have called on the FAA numerous times to impose additional regulations that would make New York City airspace safer, but we have yet to see sufficient measures be taken. That is why we have introduced the Improving Helicopter Safety Act of 2019 to finally protect the safety and wellbeing of New Yorkers. The bottom line is, the risks that commuter, charter, and tourism helicopter flights pose to New Yorkers far outweigh the benefit to the very small number of people who use them. There is absolutely no margin for error when you fly over somewhere as densely populated as New York,” said Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney (NY-12).

“Since 1980, there have been at least 30 helicopter crashes in New York City, many of which have been fatal,” said Congressman Jerrold Nadler (NY-10). “Despite my colleagues and I having called on the FAA numerous times to take simple and prudent action to protect our city, the FAA has refused to sufficiently act. That is why I joined Representatives Maloney and Velázquez in authoring legislation to protect our skies by banning non-essential flights over New York City. There is simply no justification for allowing tourists to joy-ride over our city, endangering lives and creating unnecessary noise pollution.

“Although we have previously called on the Federal Aviation Administration to ban all non-essential helicopter flights over New York City, we must do more,” said Congresswoman Nydia M. Velázquez (NY-07). “While we all remember the terrible accident in June and others in previous years, safety is not the only concern. Many of my Brooklyn neighbors who live near the water’s edge suffer from incessant noise pollution, due to helicopter flights. That’s why I am proud to join my colleagues in authoring legislation to ban all non-essential flights over New York. Simply, our City is not a good fit for helicopter air traffic and it is time this practice was addressed once and for all.”

“For many New Yorkers, especially those who live along the Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn waterfront, noise pollution produced by tourist helicopters has become a daily burden on peaceful enjoyment of their homes and communities. The copters have also raised ongoing concerns about safety, and they have huge negative environmental impacts. By limiting non-essential helicopter travel over New York City, we will make our airways less congested and improve the quality of life of New Yorkers. I commend Congressmembers Jerrold Nadler, Carolyn Maloney and Nydia Velazquez for their leadership in introducing this federal legislation,” said New York State Senator Brian Kavanagh, who represents communities in Lower Manhattan and along the Brooklyn waterfront

“Helicopters shouldn’t be flying over our dense urban environment. Tourist helicopters are increasingly unsafe and create quality of life issues for our constituents through noise and exhaust, as evidenced by the more than 1,000 complaints to 311 in each of the last three years. I'm proud to stand with Congressman Nadler, Congresswoman Maloney and Congresswoman Velazquez in support of their federal legislation banning all non-essential helicopter trips above New York City," said New York State Senator Brad Hoylman.

"Brooklyn waterfront residents have been annoyed by helicopters for far too long. I welcome this new federal legislation that would allow only police emergency and news media aircrafts to fly over our communities. This would be a welcome improvement and I urge Congress to move swiftly to enact this proposal into law, " said Assistant Speaker for the New York State Assembly Felix W. Ortiz.

“With the exponential growth of private, commercial helicopter traffic, New York’s skies are quickly becoming just as congested as our streets. The copters promise the wealthy and well connected speedy and stress-free commutes with scenic views, but what about the effect on the rest of us. In addition the near-constant noise that some communities in the flight path experience, they are uber polluters spewing carbon into our environment and they are dangerously unregulated. I commend Representatives Nadler, Maloney and Velazquez for working to protect New Yorkers and our environment by banning all non-essential helicopter traffic in New York City,” said New York State Assembly Member Linda B. Rosenthal.

“I join my colleagues in thanking our Congressional leaders as they move to address a myriad of safety and quality of life issues resulting from non-essential helicopters operating throughout the city. We've heard community members' concerns, and are glad this long fought for measure is being introduced," said New York Assembly Member Deborah Glick.

“I am thrilled that Congress Members Nydia Velázquez, Carolyn Maloney and Jerrold Nadler will be introducing the Improving Helicopter Safety Act of 2019 to ban non-essential helicopter traffic over NYC,” said New York Assembly Member Jo Anne Simon. “This legislation will solve not only a quality of life issue for the many New Yorkers who live along the waterfront by reducing the incessant and for some triggering, noise, but will also drastically improve safety”.

“Helicopters have been a nuisance and a safety hazard to the five boroughs for far too long,” said Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer. “I have been sounding the alarm on this issue for twenty years, and I’m grateful to Representatives Maloney, Nadler and Velazquez for introducing legislation to reduce risky helicopter traffic.”

“Helicopter noise is incessant across my district, from heliport operations to flights over Central Park. With safety and quality of life a priority, we must address prevalent flights that are overrunning the city. I thank Congresswoman Maloney and her colleagues for proposing solutions to this pervasive problem,” said  New York City Council Member Keith Powers.

"The use of helicopters for non-essential travel has proven time and again to pose a serious threat to the safety and quality of life of the residents of New York City," said New York City Council Member Mark Levine. "These flights are loud, they pollute our air, and have little to no value to the public. And as we have seen far too many times they can be dangerous. With the rise of app-based flights this problem will only get worse. The status quo is intolerable and I am grateful for the strong leadership of Representatives Nadler, Maloney and Velázquez in working to force the FAA to ban all non-essential helicopter travel as we continue to insist that New York City use its control over our heliports to eliminate this threat immediately.”

“Our city already has one of the highest helicopter utilization rates in the world-a reality that many of my constituents living nearby the Downtown Manhattan heliport know all too well,” said New York City Council Member Margaret S. Chin. “Now, with Uber operating a new service at the heliport to bring premium customers to and from JFK airport, we refuse to stand idly by and allow private companies to treat our skies above our homes, schools and hospitals in the same way they choke our  streets. I am proud to stand with Congressmembers Jerry Nadler, Carolyn B. Maloney and Nydia Velazquez to support legislation banning the Federal Aviation Administration to ban all non-essential helicopter travel in New York.”  

"Every day hundreds of completely unnecessary helicopter trips--most departing from and landing at City-owned heliports--are flown over one of the most densely populated cities in the world," said Adrian Benepe, board member of Stop the Chop NY-NJ, and former NYC Parks Commissioner. "Most of them are expensive tourist sightseeing flights, but some are also luxury trips to second homes or to the airports. Those unnecessary helicopter flights spew at least 6,000 tons of toxic carbon pollution annually, poisoning the air we breathe and contributing to climate change, and they inflict noise pollution on millions of New Yorkers, impacting our physical and mental health, while endangering New Yorkers with their frequent crashes. If Mayor de Blasio won't end this with executive action, as he can, Congress can take action to end this plague."

“Manhattan Community Board 1 has long advocated for elimination of non-essential, commercial flights from the Wall Street Heliport. Flights originating from there pose a real threat to the quality of life in lower Manhattan and may indeed be dangerous. We laud our elected officials for their work on this important legislation and look forward to positive results,” said Anthony Notaro, Chair of Manhattan Community Board 1.

"The BHA is hopeful that the Improving Helicopter Safety Act of 2019 will finally bring the relief we and our neighbors have been asking for," said Lara Birnback, Executive Director of the Brooklyn Heights Association. "Convenience and entertainment for a very few cannot justify 25 fatalities over the past three decades, nor is it a sufficient reason to burden communities across the city with needless air and noise pollution. We are grateful to Representatives Velazquez, Nadler, and Maloney for their diligence and attention to this issue over the years." 

“Much of Carnegie Hill borders Central Park which is a favored route for helicopter tourism and for commuter flights between New Jersey and airports on Long Island. We welcome this new bill designed to eliminate many of these non-essential flights and sharply reduce noise pollution.  We are grateful to our elected officials - especially, Congresswomen Carolyn Maloney and City Councilmember Keith Powers - for their hard work in arriving at a solution that sets tougher standards for helicopter flights, nationwide, that the FAA will be required to enforce,” said Lo van der Valk, President of Carnegie Hill Neighbors.

“Given that NYC has experienced at least 30 helicopter crashes since 1980, some fatal (including the recent June 10, 2019 deadly crash and fire on a midtown roof), there is good reason to fear for the safety of New Yorkers, their lives and property. Additionally, there is also the real security worry about helicopters’ potential use in terrorist attacks (unfortunately, we know from experience, that NYC is a target of terrorists).   The proliferation of non-essential helicopters flying low in our airspace is also alarming for environmental reasons. As the city advocates for reducing car and vehicular traffic due to polluting emissions (e.g., enacting congestion pricing, car-free streets, restrictions/caps on for-hire vehicles, and the encouragement of public transportation and bicycles), it is hypocritical to allow one of the least environmentally-friendly modes to transportation to pollute our airspace - not to mention the stress-inducing noise pollution helicopters create as well. It is time we end the Wild West airspace created by the helicopter menace over NYC, ” said Melissa Elstein, Secretary & Co-founder, West 80s Neighborhood Association.

“The helicopter traffic is non-stop. It’s like living at Kennedy Airport. It’s unbearable. I’m grateful to Representatives Maloney, Velázquez, and Nadler for truly understanding our plight and coming to our rescue. It’s a first step, but a very important first step to restoring the peace and quiet we once enjoyed,” said Toba Potosky, President Cadman Towers and Cadman Park Conservancy.

     

Background

The Improving Helicopter Safety Act of 2019:

  • Prohibits nonessential helicopters from flying in covered airspace of any city with a population of over 8 million people and with a population density of over 25,000 people per square mile—including waterways within the city’s jurisdiction
  • Defines “nonessential” helicopters as any helicopter flown by a pilot with a Part 135 or Part 91 license (i.e. any private or commercial pilot) whose purpose is not “essential”
  • Defines “essential” helicopter flights as: law enforcement, emergency response, disaster response, medical services, or for the public interest; does not affect military aircrafts
  • Excludes airports from “covered airspace”
  • Helicopters are permitted to fly through the shortest, most direct routes possible to access or depart from airports
  • Directs the FAA to update helicopter flight charts to show airspace designated as “covered” under this bill

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) does not have any regulations, policies, or procedures to account for New York City’s uniquely crowded airspace, and it has ignored calls to implement such policies

Since 1982, there have been at least 30 helicopter crashes in New York City, causing at least 25 fatalities, according to National Transportation Safety Board records

In recent years, there have been multiple helicopter accidents in our city, many of them fatal. Some of the most known include:

  • June 10, 2019: Fatal crash into Midtown building that resulted in the death of the pilot
  • May 15, 2019: A Blade helicopter crashed into the Hudson River
  • March 11, 2018: A Doors-Off helicopter crashed in the East River, resulting in the deaths of 5 passengers
  • June 30, 2013: A charter flight was forced to land in the Hudson River
  • October 4, 2011: A helicopter crashed in the East River, killing a woman
  • August 8, 2009: A Liberty Helicopter flight crashed into a small plane over the Hudson River, killing 9 people
  • July 7, 2007: A Liberty Helicopter unexpectedly dropped 500 feet into the Hudson River
  • June 17, 2005: A corporate helicopter crashed into the East River
  • June 14, 2005: A tourist flight plunged into the East River shortly after takeoff, resulting in one serious injury
April 15, 1997: A corporate helicopter crashed into the East River, killing a Colgate-Palmolive executive and injuring a second passenger and the pilot
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