LOWER MANHATTAN — City councilmembers are pushing ahead with their fight to end noisy tourist helicopter rides, introducing a bill Thursday that would ban the sightseeing flights in New York City.
Several councilmembers including Margaret Chin, who represents Lower Manhattan, as well as the Upper West Side's Helen Rosenthal, and Brooklyn's Carlos Menchacha, proposed the legislation, which would squash the use of tourist helicopters that some call unbearably loud and persistent.
"The Council finds that there is significant noise pollution caused by the dozens of sightseeing helicopters operating daily from heliports owned by the city," the bill reads.
"The heliports used by sightseeing helicopters are near water which carries the sound of those helicopters and significantly disrupts the daily lives of city residents who live and work near the heliports or across the East River."
The councilmembers introduced two bills, which would ban the three types of helicopters used by the sightseeing business, which are known as the "loudest and most polluting helicopter types in use," according to the bills. The legislation would not curtail NYPD, FDNY, media or privately chartered helicopters.
Lower Manhattan residents and local elected officials have long complained about what they say is the constant noise from tourist helicopters whirring overhead. Tourist helicopter trips take off and land in only one spot in New York City: the Financial District's Pier 6, in the East River. There are currently five companies that operate from the city-owned heliport.
“Our constituents demanded that we do something about the incessant number of tourist helicopter flights over our neighborhoods and parks, and with this legislation, we are taking action to address those concerns," Chin said in a statement. "These bills represent a huge step towards our common goal of clear skies free of the hundreds of helicopters that circle our homes, streets, and parks every fair weather day."
There are more than 40,000 tourist flights a year in the city, and some city residents, especially in Lower Manhattan and across the river in Brooklyn, say the daily flights bring too much loud, disruptive noise.
Helicopter tour proponents, however, say the industry employs more than 200 people and brings about $30 million a year to the city's economy. They also contend that only a small percent of New Yorkers consider the helicopter noise an issue.
“This bill is outrageous,” said Brian Tolbert, manager of the lower Manhattan heliport and spokesman for Helicopters Matter, an industry advocacy group, in an emailed statement. “I am a veteran and like hundreds of other New Yorkers, I have been providing for my family in service of a vital tourism industry in New York City...I’m glad that the politicians aren’t worried about their own jobs, but real people’s livelihoods are on the line, and we will fight to protect our jobs.”
In 2010, tourist helicopters were banned from flying over land, but that has not curtailed the noise, many say, including Community Board 1, which has long asked for a ban or limits on the helicopter tours.
"We get constant complaints from our residents about the dozens of helicopters that take off every day of the week," said Ro Sheffe, the co-chair of CB1's Financial District Committee. "It's an awful situation and we would be happy to see a ban on the flights."
Lower Manhattan resident Tricia Joyce said she and her family were "overwhelmed by the constant roar" of the helicopters when they took a recent trip to Governors Island.
"It was like a war zone with all that noise from the helicopters," Joyce said. "Every few minutes, there's another helicopter taking off. It's just terrible."