The incessant noise, pollution and disruption from sightseeing helicopters taking off from the Downtown Manhattan Heliport on the East River – the only heliport in the city that still allows them — has become intolerable, advocates said on Thursday.
Elected officials and representatives of community groups and schools rallied on the steps of City Hall in support of two City Council bills that would ban the noisy choppers.
The legislation would not affect emergency, media or private helicopters.
The once-a-minute takeoffs and landings, noisy flybys and hovering helicopters waiting for space on the landing pad have made it impossible to relax in the city’s sparkling new parks, to hold a normal conversation or to concentrate in school, speakers said.
The bills were introduced on Thursday by Councilmembers Carlos Menchaca (Red Hook), Helen K. Rosenthal (West Side) and Margaret S. Chin (Lower Manhattan, Governors Island).
“We are here to stop the noise that has been completely ruining the lives of so many New Yorkers,” Rosenthal said. “We tried so hard to regulate this industry, to minimal avail. The noise is out of control.
“We look forward to working with the de Blasio administration to pass this legislation,” she added.
Councilmember Chin said, “For many downtown residents, the noise has been horrible. There are helicopters flying right in front of people’s windows — the fumes, the noise, it’s just impossible.”
“This is an issue we have been fighting in New York City for a long time,” state Sen. Liz Krueger said, crediting U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler for keeping the pressure on the issue.
“In 2010, we stopped the tourist helicopters from using the heliports in the east 30s and the west 30s. It was a real victory, but all it did was move the problem, even at a greater level, further downtown, and that’s completely unacceptable.”
She debunked the economic figures supplied by the helicopter industry that the chopper flights bring millions of dollars into New York City.
“There are other ways to see the beautiful city of New York. This isn’t the way to try to bring tourists in. Nobody feels we’re going to impact our economy if we do the right thing for the people who live here,” she said.
Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon (Brooklyn Heights, Cobble Hill) pointed out that the only heliport allowing tourist flights is “right across from my district. Brooklyn Bridge Park is immediately in the path of every single one of these helicopters.”
Since all of the tourist helicopters have moved to lower Manhattan, “It has reached a crisis point,” Simon said. “It had disrupted people’s sleep. They feel overwhelmed by the fumes, and it is distracting their children. They cannot learn or practice their music lessons.”
Councilmember Steven Levin said he hears complaints from his Downtown Brooklyn and Brooklyn Heights constituents every day in the spring, summer and fall.
“We’ve invested hundreds of millions of dollars in Brooklyn Bridge Park, and yet we allow for this constant disturbance,” Levin said. “You can’t go to Brooklyn Bridge Park on a nice day and enjoy the scenery, relaxation — the type of thing we built the park for — because of the intense noise from this virtually unregulated industry.”
A staffer from state Sen. Daniel Squadron’s office attended the rally. In a statement, Squadron said, “Helicopter noise is a quality of life issue across my district and the city. The constant impact in neighborhoods is simply not worth it.”
Murray Fisher, founder of the New York Harbor School on Governors Island, said the noise made it almost impossible for the kids to learn.
“We’ve developed six career and education programs – all the way from aquaculture to scuba diving, vessel operations and marine biology. All of these require being outside and on the water,” he said. “So we’ve created this entire school to use New York’s harbor as our classroom and we can’t do it.”
Paul Richoff, the founder of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, the country’s largest post-9/11 veterans group, said the choppers presented a security issue.
“As a former infantry officer, I’m extremely uncomfortable with civilian helicopters flying just hundreds of feet from Ground Zero. Thousands of people congregate there every day,” he said.Economic benefit?
Helicopter tour industry spokesperson Chapin Fay told the Brooklyn Eagle that an economic study from 2010 showed the sightseeing industry resulted in economic output of $33 million a year.
“Furthermore, the tourists that use our tours are typically foreigners, who spend more money once they’re in New York City,” he said, adding, “Almost 300 jobs of working class New Yorkers will be gone once this bill passes.”
Opponents say, however, that the economic figures are inflated.
“The numbers that are quoted are just believing everything EDC [Economic Development Corp.] claims,” said Brooklyn Heights Association Executive Director Judy Stanton. “They are including overnight hotels, restaurant meals, theater tickets — all that gets glommed together in addition to whatever a helicopter tour costs, added to the small amount the company that leases the heliport pays — $4 million. That’s nothing.”
The helicopter sightseeing industry got some support from Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams on Wednesday.
“Seeing New York from the ground is wonderful, but being able to see it from the air is a rich tradition,” told the Brooklyn Eagle. “So we should make sure that in our regulations that we don’t stymie the industry of tourism.”
While the city should be receptive to adjusting the number of flights at night, “Hearing noise during the day is different than hearing noise late at night,” Adams said. “Part of living in a big city is you’re going to receive some type of noise during the day.”
Brooklyn Heights resident Roberto Gautier, who lives above the exit ramp to the Brooklyn Bridge, says he is fed up with years of noise bombardment.
Residents have been suffering ever since the summer of 2010, he said, when a waiver of the noise code was made to allow for after-hours construction on the Brooklyn Bridge.
“The helipad is another part of this noise mosaic,” he told the Eagle. He feels that helicopters should be retrofitted with noise-canceling blades.
“I’ve always felt it was a ridiculous motto – “The City That Never Sleeps” — Gautier said.