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Banning Tourist Helicopters Solves Nothing, Official Says

A helicopter flies over the Hudson River.
A helicopter flies over the Hudson River.
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Spencer Platt/Getty Images

By Julie Shapiro

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

FINANCIAL DISTRICT — Banning noisy tourist helicopters from the Downtown Manhattan Heliport, as residents and politicians are advocating, would create more problems than it would solve, a city official claimed this week.

Patricia Ornst, director of aviation for the Economic Development Corp., warned that the city would lose its limited leverage over tourist helicopters if the choppers were barred from the downtown heliport.

"They will move elsewhere and they will continue to operate," Ornst told Community Board 1's Financial District Committee. "It will be worse."

The city negotiated an agreement with tour companies last year that stopped the helicopters from making short, low loops and cutting across Manhattan, maneuvers that made the flights much noisier.

That agreement only holds while the tour companies are flying from the city-owned Downtown Manhattan Heliport, Ornst said.

While Ornst acknowledged that the city still has more work to do to address helicopter noise and air-quality problems, she said the situation is much better than it was since the deal went into effect last year.

Local residents scoffed at that claim.

"Have you been there lately?" asked Joel Kopel, a CB1 member who lives in the Financial District. "You're in Disneyland."

Kopel said it is impossible to relax on the East River esplanade because of the overwhelming noise from the copters taking off and landing on weekends.

"The noise is deafening," Kopel said. "We've lost our sense of serenity downtown."

Kopel and others said they are also worried that the sheer number of helicopters taking off and landing at the heliport could cause a mid-air collision.

In April, which is usually the peak traffic month, the heliport saw 4,830 landings, or an average of more than 160 a day, Ornst told CB1. More than half of those flights were tourist helicopters, she said.

Over the same period, the city logged 155 complaints about helicopters, the vast majority of which were from Brooklyn, where the choppers often fly to give tourists a better view of the skyline and the Statue of Liberty.

Concerns from residents in lower Manhattan and Brooklyn led US Rep. Jerrold Nadler and state Sen. Daniel Squadron to recently call for a ban on tourist helicopters at the Downtown Manhattan Heliport, the only heliport in the city that allows tourist flights.

Squadron told DNAinfo Thursday that the city worked in good faith to try to solve the helicopter problem over the past year, but it just isn't working.

Even if tour companies relocate to New Jersey and keep flying around New York Harbor, there would be fewer flights, and no take-offs and landings.

"The status quo just doesn't work," Squadron said.