By Nicole Breskin
CHELSEA — People who want to catch a sightseeing helicopter flight over the Hudson River will have to head somewhere other than Chelsea starting Thursday once the neighborhood heliport stops allowing tourist flights.
The changes at the Air Pegasus Heliport, located near 30th Street, bring to a close more than a decade of wrangling among West Side residents and park advocates over noise problems and having the heliport in Hudson River Park. While the heliport will still be used for commercial, government and emergency flights, the elimination of tourism trips reduces local air traffic.
“For far too long, park users have been continually assaulted by noise, fumes, wind, and dust from the heliport,” said A.J. Pietrantone, executive director of Friends of Hudson River Park, a nonprofit park advocacy group.
“Eliminating tourist fights is a great step forward in improving the quality of life for everyone that uses and enjoys the park, as well as its surrounding neighborhoods.”
Helicopter tourism was banned at the heliport by the Hudson River Park Act of 1998, but flight operators were allowed to continue until a replacement spot was named.
Now, Liberty Helicopter Sightseeing Tours, which was the primary tourist carrier at the heliport, will use the Downtown Manhattan Heliport at Pier 6, operated by Saker Aviation.
The deadly collision of a sightseeing helicopter and a private plane over the Hudson River last summer revived calls to relocate tourist flights. The fatal helicopter flight originated from the Air Pegasus Heliport.
Air Pegasus Heliport and Liberty Helicopter Sightseeing Tours did not return calls for comment.
In 2007, a lawsuit filed against the Hudson River Park Trust, which has jurisdiction over the heliport, and Air Pegasus resulted in a cap on tourist flights and ultimately phasing them out by Thursday.
With the agreement, "we believe the public will benefit from the reduction in noise in Hudson River Park," said Noreen Doyle, executive director of the Hudson River Park Trust, the public-private partnership in charge of the park.
"This is particularly timely given the opening this spring of a wonderful new park section in Chelsea at Piers 62 and 63."
As part of the agreement, all flights will be eventually phased out of the Chelsea heliport by 2012.