City resists chopper command from Brooklyn Heights

Copter complaints go unanswered
This drawing is not as applicable now that fines are starting to be issued to helicopter pilots who violate a city anti-noise flight plan. Still, we like the drawing, so we're running with it, baby!
Roxanna Velandria

Brooklyn Heights residents who are about to be even more annoyed by helicopter noise starting this April were hit with a bit of “good news/bad news” at a hastily called meeting with city, state and federal officials last Friday.

The good news: Helicopters can take alternate routes to cut down on noise pollution across the tony neighborhood.

The bad news: No agency requires the chopper pilots to use such routes.

Such a revelation reveals part of the difficulty facing residents who are seeking to cut back on news and tourist helicopter flights as one of Manhattan’s two helicopter pads closes next year.

The state’s April closure of the West 30th Street heliport for tourist departures could result in thousands more sight-seeing trips leaving from the remaining helipad near the South Street Seaport, just across the East River from Brooklyn Heights.

A decade of complaints about the existing noise led to the Oct. 30 meeting with the Economic Development Corporation, the Federal Aviation Administration, the Brooklyn Heights Association, state Sen. Daniel Squadron (D–Brooklyn Heights), Councilman David Yassky (D–Brooklyn Heights) and Assemblywoman Joan Millman (D–Carroll Gardens). But all that the chopper opponents learned at the confab was that there is very little accountability where helicopters are involved.

“We came out of the meeting with a lot less than we expected,” said Judy Stanton, executive director of the Brooklyn Heights Association.

But Squadron was happy to have been at the table, seeing it as a first step towards trimming non-essential tourist flights.

“We’re working on ending the lack of government oversight of the helicopter business,” he said. “The best way to do this will be to have helicopter companies, the EDC and the FAA at the table.”

It’s not the first time that lawmakers have grappled with the need to balance tourist and news-media needs with community outrage over noise.

In the late 1990s, then-Mayor Giuliani put into motion a gradual ban of tourist helicopters, but Mayor Bloomberg reversed the reductions, citing a need to capture the tourist money that each $800 helicopter ride generates in revenues for the city.

But while the EDC manages the city’s heliports, there are few requirements about where those choppers can go once they leave the pad. The FAA, for example, only controls airspace above 1,500 feet.

“There are alternate routes for helicopters to take that will be less noisy for residents, but the pilots are not required to take them,” said FAA spokesman Jim Peters.

Helicopter noise is not just an in-flight problem. Each flying machine must warm up on the ground — at full throttle — before it can safely take off. The blades makes a strong reverberation that is felt across the river.

“The river is narrow and water amplifies the propeller’s sound,” Stanton said. “If they are not going to cut the numbers of flights, then the residents will still be bothered by helicopters.”

A meeting on Friday did little to change the situation.
The Brooklyn Paper / Tom Callan

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