For immediate release
December 7, 2022
Chapel Hill: New York City has won this month’s Noisy Dozen award from Noise Free America: A Coalition to Promote Quiet for allowing incessant noise from tourist and commuter helicopters. The key culprits are the Downtown Manhattan Heliport and helicopter operators Blade and FlyNYON.
In recent years, complaints about incessant noise from tourist and commuter helicopters have skyrocketed in the Big Apple.
Over a decade ago, sightseeing helicopter tours were banned from using the East 34th Street Heliport and the West 30th Street Heliport, due to noise complaints. Consequently, all tours began operating out of the Downtown Manhattan Heliport, with the ceiling on the number of takeoffs and landings set at 60,000 (DMH”). When the New York City Council was about to ban helicopter tours in the city altogether, in 2016, Mayor Bill de Blasio struck a deal capping at 30,000 the number of annual sightseeing flights at DMH. The same deal restricted the tours to flying over New York’s two rivers and harbor, barring them from crossing New York City land or operating at all on Sundays.
Given the flight cap and the new restrictions, some individuals simply began flying from New Jersey so they could evade New York City’s rules and continue flying over sights like Central Park and Midtown’s skyscrapers with no limit on the number of flights or hours seven days a week.
The tour flights that still originate from the Downtown Manhattan Heliport–nearly 30,000 a year–fly up and down the Hudson River and around New York’s Harbor, continuing to make life miserable for anyone unfortunate enough to live, work or recreate anywhere near the waterfront.
At the same time, the app-based helicopter commuter company Blade launched in 2014 with service to the Hamptons on Long Island and JFK, LaGuardia, Newark, and Westchester County airports. Blade has significantly increased its operations in the last eight years, and the majority of these thunderous commuter flights pass over land across densely populated Brooklyn and Queens, as well as adjacent to New Jersey communities along the Hudson River, like Jersey City, Bayonne, and Hoboken. While this shortcut saves just a few minutes of flight time for Blade, the excessive noise harms millions of people below.
With complaints to 311 about helicopter noise reaching unprecedented levels (26,000 in 2021), legislation has been introduced in the City Council (Int. 551) to completely ban tour and commuter flights from using the two City-owned (East 34th Street and DMH) heliports. There is public pressure to shut down the West 30th Street Heliport, which is located within the Hudson River Park–a New York State Park. This heliport is next to the Hudson River and just inches from the country’s busiest bike/recreational path.
Federal bills have been introduced by New York Representatives Carolyn Maloney, Jerry Nadler, and Nydia Velasquez to stem the constant helicopter traffic, noise, pollution, and safety concerns caused by the tourist and commuter helicopters. HR 1643, if passed, would ban all non-essential helicopters over New York City and adjacent waterways, and HR 7769 would create a bi-state (NY-NJ) helicopter commission to “substantially reduce” the current helicopter traffic.
New York City’s beautiful Hudson River and New York Harbor have become noisy helicopter highways hurting all those who live, work, or recreate near the waterfront.
Sadly, the same is true for New York City’s beloved urban parks such as Central Park, Battery Park, Governors Island, Brooklyn Bridge Park, and Prospect Park. Additionally, residential neighborhoods along both the commuter helicopter paths to the airports and Hamptons as well as those near helicopter tourist sights are under near-constant helicopter noise assault. Many on Stop the Chop NY/NJ’s active social media accounts complain with frustration and sadness that all these helicopters make New York City sound like a war zone.”
“On fair days in my neighborhood, the near-constant drone of helicopters overhead has become the new normal,” said Ken Coughlin, a resident of Manhattan’s Upper West Side and a board member of the non-profit Stop the Chop NY/NJ, a grassroots organization formed to ban non-essential helicopter flights over New York City, the New York metropolitan area and New Jersey.
Coughlin explained that much of this noise is from sightseeing helicopters that originate in New Jersey to evade New York City prohibitions against tourist helicopters traversing its land areas. One of the main New Jersey tour operators is FlyNYON, which offers “doors-off” flights over New York City, where passengers often take “shoe selfies” of their feet dangling over sites like Central Park and Liberty Island.
“While Central Park is supposed to be a peaceful oasis and refuge from the city’s din, sometimes two or even three helicopters hover over the park simultaneously, for minutes at a time,” Coughlin said. “I have stood in the park and been unable to converse with another person due to the deafening sound.”
Coughlin recalled that at an outdoor classical music concert in the park, the conclusion of a piece by a young composer was drowned out by noise from a passing tourist or commuter helicopter.
“I am right on the flyway to the park, and it’s one after another on some days,” Coughlin said. “It’s like living in a war zone. One Sunday morning I counted 11 helicopters in the space of an hour and a half. It’s a helpless feeling to be on the ground and under constant assault by noise hundreds of feet above. Thousands on the ground are disturbed so that a few can enjoy a wasteful joyride. Disney World and Disneyland are no-fly zones for helicopters. What is New York City, chopped liver?”
“As a lifelong New York City resident, and as a public servant for nearly 45 years, I have watched and listened with increasing horror and sadness as the City of New York and other governmental agencies have allowed or encouraged the destruction of the City and New York metro area by a daily onslaught of completely nonessential (tourist and commuter) helicopters. The noise and air pollution of these aircraft afflict many, if not most, New York City neighborhoods and nearby suburbs, including in New Jersey, Westchester County, and the length of Long Island.
I personally experience the relentless noise assault at home on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, primarily from tourist helicopters operating under the authority of the New York City Economic Development Corporation and flying from the New York City-owned Downtown Manhattan Heliport. There is a similar audial bombardment of the entire West Side and interior of Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn, as well as Liberty, Ellis, and Governors Islands, from tourist helicopters flying from Newark, Kearney, and Linden, New Jersey.
There is no relief at my job as President of Brooklyn Botanic Garden, where we are assaulted seven days a week by “commuter” helicopters, primarily those operated by Blade, ferrying privileged passengers from Manhattan heliports to JFK Airport and to weekend homes in the Hamptons, destroying physical, mental, and environmental health and quality of life in most of the parks and residential neighborhoods in Brooklyn.”
“I was drawn to the South Street Seaport 20 years ago for the relative quiet and the beautiful views of the Brooklyn Bridge. I have stayed through 9/11, Hurricane Sandy, and the pandemic. But it’s the non-stop helicopters with their unbearable noise and vibration that has pushed me to think about moving out of town. I now dread weekends and nice weather because FlyNYON tourist helicopters will run from 9 am to 10 pm, roaring around the Brooklyn Bridge before descending on the Statue of Liberty, triggering my post-9/11 PTSD.
Why? So a few thrill-seekers can get a photograph of the Brooklyn Bridge from above for their Instagram feed? Add to this the New York City-based tourist flights that are making the lives of not only those of us who live near the Downtown Manhattan Heliport hell, but are ruining the tourist destinations themselves! You can’t sit by the water at the Seaport, visit the Statue of Liberty or hang out on Governors Island without the eternal buzz of helicopters overhead ruining your experience.”
Melissa Elstein, community organizer for Stop the Chop NY/NJ, stated that “New York City is an incredible city with a diverse population, beautiful urban parks, a vibrant nightlife, top-notch theatre and art scenes, unique shopping opportunities, and first-rate culinary offerings. Unfortunately, the constant din of non-essential helicopter traffic over much of the city is detracting from the many reasons New Yorkers and visitors come here. Sadly, instead of ‘Lullaby of Broadway,’ the city’s soundtrack has become ‘Apocalypse Now.’ Stop the Chop NY/NJ supports a complete ban of non-essential helicopters over New York City (just as Disney received over its land). New York and New Jersey elected officials should come to the table to finally end this aural, environmental, and safety nightmare.”
Noise Free America: A Coalition to Promote Quiet is a national citizens’ organization devoted to noise reduction. Past “winners” of the Noisy Dozen award include Battery Park City; Brooklyn; and Huntington, New York.