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New York City Representatives Nadler, Velázquez, and Goldman Introduce the Safe and Quiet Skies Act to Regulate Commercial Air Tours

Last week, Representative Jerrold Nadler (NY-12) introduced the Safe and Quiet Skies Act (H.R. 1071), along with Representatives Nydia Velázquez (NY-7), Daniel Goldman (NY-10), Ed Case (HI-1), Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC-At Large), Brad Sherman (CA-32), and Jill Tokuda (HI-2).

This legislation will direct the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to adopt National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recommendations to increase safety and reduce community disruption of commercial air tours. The bill mandates strict regulation of commercial air tour operations to address disruption, including requiring that commercial air tours fly about a 1,500-foot altitude and requiring that commercial air tours over occupied areas be no louder than 55 dbA. The Safe and Quiet Skies Act also prohibits tour flights over military installations, national cemeteries, national wilderness areas, national parks, and national wildlife refuges.

"I am proud to join Representative Ed Case in introducing this legislation to direct the FAA to finally adopt National Transportation Safety Board recommendations that will increase the safety of commercial air tours and prohibit flights over federal properties like National Parks and cemeteries that deserve respect," said Rep. Nadler. "Last year, nearly eight thousand commercial air tours flew over National Parks of New York Harbor Management Unit sites, which include national treasures like the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. The large volume of commercial air tours over these sites is increasingly unsafe and creates substantial quality-of-life issues for New Yorkers and tourists alike. Unfortunately, despite my repeated calls for the FAA to adequately address this issue, they have failed to act. That’s why I’m proud to join my colleagues in authoring legislation to place needed restrictions on commercial air tour operations. Low-flying tourist helicopters and small planes are both a nuisance and a clear danger: it’s time we end these reckless joyrides over our communities.”

“Many of my Brooklyn neighbors who live near the water’s edge suffer from near constant noise pollution due to helicopter tour flights," said Rep. Velázquez. "That’s why I am proud to join my colleagues in introducing this legislation to reduce community disruption from commercial air tours and restrict tour flights. Given the number of tragic accidents and noise complaints from New Yorkers in recent years, it's past time we address this issue and stop these flights from lowering the quality of life of our citizens."

"Noise pollution from commercial air tours is a significant disruption to quality of life for New Yorkers on the waterfront,” said Rep. Goldman. “The Safe and Quiet Skies Act is a common-sense piece of legislation that will prioritize the wellbeing and safety of New Yorkers over nonessential helicopter tourism. I will continue to work with my colleagues in pushing for legislative solutions that provide relief to the communities in my district most affected by the unjustifiable nuisance brought about by the unchecked and under-regulated proliferation of air tour operations." 

“My Hawai'i is but one example of these worsening concerns nationwide. For too many years, Hawai‘i has seen deadly crashes of commercial air tour helicopters, including in residential neighborhoods, and far too many deaths from the crashes of commercial skydiving planes,” said Rep. Case. “Following just three of the most recent tragedies at Kailua, Kaua'I, and Dillingham Airfield, which are not isolated instances nationally, the NTSB, which is responsible for investigating accidents but not for direct safety regulation, suggested strongly and directly to the FAA that safety-related regulation of commercial tour helicopters and small aircraft skydiving operations is generally insufficient. These tragedies occurred amidst a rapid increase in commercial helicopter and small plane overflights of all parts of Hawaii including residential, commercial, and industrial neighborhoods, cemeteries and memorials, land and marine parks and other recreation areas, and sensitive military installations. These have disrupted whole communities with excessive noise and other impacts, destroyed the peace and sanctity of special places, increased risk to passengers and those on the ground, and weakened security and management of defense operations. Clearly, the FAA should now follow the NTSB’s lead before any more lives are lost, and clearly, Congress must act to protect lives and property and to allow communities to regulate against unacceptable disruption if as is clear the FAA will not.”

“As co-chair of the Quiet Skies Caucus, I am proud to co-lead this legislation to improve safety and reduce community disruption from commercial air tours,” said Rep. Norton. “It is past time for the FAA to follow the safety recommendations of the National Transportation Safety Board.”

The Representatives are joined in this effort by grassroots community organizations, including:

Stop The Chop NY/NJ: "Stop the Chop NY/NJ, a grassroots nonprofit organization, supports the introduction of the Safe and Quiet Skies Act. We thank Representatives Jerry Nadler, Nydia Velázquez, and Dan Goldman for their leadership on the environmental, safety, security, and quality of life issues that the proliferation of nonessential helicopters over the New York metropolitan region and around the nation have created. The FAA has turned a deaf ear to the myriad complaints from the public who endure daily sonic assaults from these low-flying, unnecessary aircraft that spew toxic air pollution harming our health and speeding up climate change. This legislation will be a significant step toward providing relief to these communities -- including New York City, the most densely populated city in the nation. We stand with Reps. Nadler, Case, Norton, Velázquez, Goldman, and the other cosponsors of this necessary bill; we urge Congress to pass it and President Biden to sign it into law in 2023." 

The bill is being introduced as Congress takes up reauthorization of the FAA. Specifically, the Safe and Quiet Skies Act will:

• Require that tour flights fly above the 1,500-foot altitude over actual ground at all times with very limited exceptions for emergencies and takeoff/landing;
• Require tour flights over occupied areas (including residential, commercial and recreational areas) to be no louder than 55 dbA, the same level of noise commonly allowed for residential areas;
• Allow states and localities to impose additional requirements – stricter than the minimum national requirements called for in the act – on tour flights;
• Require that all regulations under this Act, in addition to any updates to any Air Tours Common Procedure Manuals (voluntary understandings between operators and the FAA), include public engagement;
• Prohibit tour flights over military installations, national cemeteries, national wilderness areas, national parks, and national wildlife refuges;
• Apply the “sterile cockpit rule” to tour flights, which requires that pilots only focus on safely operating the aircraft and would define tour-giving and narrating as outside of the duties required for safe operation.
• Require FAA to implement NTSB recommendations regarding Part 135 regulations, which most tour flights fly under.

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