LOWER MANHATTAN — After years of complaints from residents and elected officials about the loud, incessant noise of tourist helicopters whirling overhead, the city announced a deal Sunday that will cut the number of chopper flights in half by 2017.
The agreement between the city and the helicopter tourism industry also includes ending all flight tours on Sundays, staring April 1, 2016, and immediately banning helicopters from flying over Governors Island and Staten Island.
The deal — which reduces the number of flights by about 30,000 a year — is a long-brokered compromise, as some elected officials had been pushing for an outright ban on the tourist flights because of noise and pollution issues, while the helicopter industry asserted that it brought in more than $30 million per year to the city's economy.
“The non-stop din of helicopters has been a major quality of life issue for New Yorkers living near heavily trafficked routes,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio in a statement. “Today we’re addressing it. We’ve reached an agreement that will significantly cut down on the number of helicopter tours near residential areas and major parks, while keeping this part of our tourism sector active and viable.”
Since 2010, all helicopter tours were banned from flying over land, and have taken off and landed in only one spot in the city — the Financial District’s Pier 6, along South Street near Broad Street.
Five tour companies offer up chopper flights from the city-owned heliport.
Lower Manhattan residents, particularly, along with elected officials have long voiced anger over the constant and thundering whir of the circling flights that take off every couple of minutes, along with concerns about pollution.
In the July, city councilmembers including Downtown’s Margaret Chin, as well as the Upper West Side's Helen Rosenthal, and Brooklyn's Carlos Menchacha, proposed legislation that would squash the use of tourist helicopters, citing years of constituents' complaints.
In a joint statement with Rosenthal and Menchacha, Chin hailed the city’s deal, which also requires operators to submit monthly reports to the city detailing the number of flights, as well as any helicopter routes that stray too close to the land, or off the agreed upon flight paths. An independent monitor will verify the reports “periodically,” according to the city.
The heliport operator is also responsible for establishing a system to monitor air quality in the area, and give monthly reports to the city council and the New York City Economic Development Corporation.
The agreement is a “huge step forward in protecting the quality of life of thousands of New Yorkers,’ Chin, Rosenthal and Menchacha said in a statement. “We pledge to remain vigilant, and we will use our oversight role on the Council judiciously.”
Some, however, do not think the deal went far enough.
State Senator Daniel Squadron, as well Borough President Gale Brewer, who have long advocated for a full ban on the tourist flights, said in a joint statement with other elected officials that they continue to support a full ban, though they praised the deal for trying to help with the issue.
John Dellaportas, president of Stop the Chop, a group that opposes the flights, called the agreement a "sweetheart deal" that was negotiated in secret.
"This so-called compromise actually entrenches the helicopter industry while doing nothing for New York City families, students, park goers and workers," he said in a statement to the Associated Press. "We will continue to push for a full ban and expect the City Council to see through this PR ploy for what it is."