Uptown Residents Demand Solution to Constant Helicopter Noise

By Nigel Chiwaya on February 20, 2013 11:38am | Updated on February 20, 2013 12:44pm

 City Councilman Robert Jackson met with residents to discuss the helicopter noise that plagues northern Manhattan.
City Councilman Robert Jackson met with residents to discuss the helicopter noise that plagues northern Manhattan.
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DNAinfo/Nigel Chiwaya

WASHINGTON HEIGHTS — Uptown residents vexed by the noise of sightseeing helicopters say pilots regularly fly low over the Hudson River — in violation of rules set to limit copter clamor.

"I'm plagued by the sound of these helicopters," Catherine Abate said Tuesday night.

Abate, who lives at 157th Street near Broadway, said her windows vibrate from the noise of helicopters that fly "very low along the Hudson and very close to the shore."

Abate and other residents from Morningside Heights, Harlem and Washington Heights gathered Tuesday night at a forum organized by City Councilman Robert Jackson to brainstorm ways to put an end to what they say is incessant helicopter noise.

"On a summer day you have between 100 to 200 helicopters passing through per day," said Kevin Ryan, who lives at 157th Street and Riverside Drive.

According to the New York City Economic Development Corporation's website, helicopters are required to fly 2,000-feet above sea level to reduce ground-level noise. But neighbors say the flights rarely get that high.

"The joke is that I can see if the [pilot] is wearing a mustache or not," said Eric Bohnenstiel, who lives at 157th Street and Riverside Drive.

Noise from the sightseeing helicopters has been a issue in the area since 2010, when the NYCEDC changed the path of sightseeing helicopters departing from the Downtown Manhattan Heliport. The flights were diverted north and banned from flying over downtown Brooklyn and lower and midtown Manhattan after residents in those neighborhoods fought back against the racket.

Bohnenstiel, who has ridden on a sightseeing helicopter, said he also worries that passenger bags aren't regularly checked on the low-flying flights, prompting security and terrorism worries.

Representatives from the Downtown Manhattan Heliport could not be immediately reached for comment. In the past, a heliport spokesman has said the air traffic generates an estimated $45 million annually for the city’s economy.

"We have worked very closely with helicopter operators and local communities to minimize the noise impact of tourist helicopters,” spokesman Kyle Sklerov said in November.

Residents submitted an anti-helicopter petition to Jackson's office in November. Jackson aide Martin Collins said he contacted the EDC, but officials there told him there were no plans to change the flight route.

"They said it was the least obtrusive route," Collins said.

A spokesman for the Economic Development Corporation had no immediate comment about residents' Tuesday night complaints, but said the agency would look into their concerns. According to the EDC, the number of complaints to the department about helicopter noise has dropped about from 54 in 2011 to 18 in 2012.

Residents said Tuesday night they've also complained to 311, Mayor Michael Bloomberg's office and directly to the heliport in a so-far futile effort to curb the noise.

Abate said she was rebuffed by a heliport operator when she called to complain about multiple low-flying choppers on Valentine's Day.

"He said, 'What do you expect? It's Valentine's Day,' " Abate said.

Community Board 9 has passed a resolution to rid the area of the helicopters, Abate said, and Community Board 12 Chairman George Fernandez said his neighborhood would be willing to do whatever it could to help as well.

Jackson added that he would get in touch with the NYCEDC and the mayor's office about the noise.

"I need to call them up and complain about it to them," Jackson said.

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