Dear Friend,

I wanted to contact you to discuss our response to Saturday’s terrible accident over the Hudson River, in which a small plane collided with a sightseeing helicopter and nine people lost their lives.

As we offer our condolences to the families of the victims, we must reflect on the sad truth that these deaths were likely preventable.  Quite simply, decades of official inaction and the practically non-existent regulation of New York’s airspace have rendered our city’s dense flight corridor overcrowded and extremely dangerous.

Rep. Nadler holds a press conference to address the fatal crash on the Hudson with Assemblyman Dick Gottfried, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Councilmember Gale Brewer, and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer.  Click here to view the video.

For over 10 years I have been demanding that the helicopter industry in New York be regulated.  I have met with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) a number of times, including as recently as July, to insist upon tighter regulation of our airspace.  We must not allow this latest tragedy to become just another unheeded warning; we must act now to protect the skies over our city.

The Problem

The FAA regulates the thousands of flights crisscrossing our skies every week.  Each of these flights is required to abide by common sense, industry standard safety practices.  However, if an aircraft flies below 1,100 feet in altitude, the FAA enforces almost none of these regulations.  Straightforward safety procedures, such as filing a flight plan, having a system onboard to alert the pilot when another aircraft is getting too close, and having access to tower assistance and radar, are absent for the thousands of flights made under 1,100 feet in and around our city.  The ‘see and avoid’ rule governing our airspace is a disaster waiting to happen, as Saturday’s crash tragically proved.  It has become clear that, in far too many respects, New York’s airspace has been left alone like it were the Wild West.

What We Can Do About it Right Now

Despite all of this, the FAA has repeatedly told Congress that it lacks the legal authority to regulate aircraft below 1,100 feet--this notwithstanding the fact that, after several crashes of tourist crafts in Hawaii, the FAA imposed such regulations in 1994.  I believe that the FAA is wrong to claim that it lacks the authority to deal with this issue, and, in a frank letter to the Administrator of the FAA sent this week, I listed the simple steps that the agency can take to prevent future accidents.  Fifteen Members of Congress signed the letter, including many members representing New York State.

I have also taken the opportunity to speak personally with the Administrator about implementing these safety standards. While we await the implementation of these standards, we should seriously consider banning all flights below 1,100 feet until radar systems are available to track them.

There are several easy and effective safety guidelines that we can implement right now:

  • Every helicopter and small aircraft should be required to file a flight plan for its trip, regardless of altitude.
  • All general aviation aircraft must be required to have onboard the Traffic Collision Avoidance System (TCAS), which alerts pilots when another aircraft is too close.
  • All aircraft should be required to carry a Mode C transponder, which is a device that emits a constant signal announcing a craft’s location to all nearby aircraft.

Each of these simple, low-cost solutions would increase safety for pilots, their passengers, and the cities over which they fly.

Given all of the safety technologies and procedures available today, it is unconscionable that the FAA permits unregulated flights in such a crowded airspace as above the Hudson River.  If the FAA refuses to act, I will urge Congress to intervene so that we can finally bring common sense, life-saving regulations to our airspace.


Jerrold Nadler
Member of Congress

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