Go to hell-icopter! Brooklyn pols renew push to ban tourist choppers

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

The city should tell tourist helicopters to buzz off, say Brooklyn waterfront residents who are cheering a new campaign by local lawmakers to jettison the joyrides.

City councilmembers are drafting a bill that would ban the tours from taking off from a city-owned Manhattan heliport directly across from Brooklyn Heights, and locals — who have long complained about the sound of eggbeaters hovering over the East River — say the news is music to their ears.

“So many people in this neighborhood talk to each other about the noise, and everybody just hates it,” said Rick Elkins, a graphic designer who works from his home in the Heights. “Sitting at my desk, I can hear the helicopters even though I’m a couple blocks inland.”

The city already banned sightseeing helicopters from flying over Brooklyn in 2010, but local lawmakers say the residents are still plagued by the rotorcraft racket on the river.

“The negative contribution of tourist helicopters to air quality and noise is well documented, and has — for many years — been a real problem for New Yorkers,” said Councilman Carlos Menchaca (D–Red Hook), who is spearheading the push, which fellow Councilman Steve Levin (D–Brooklyn Heights) says he will support.

Five chopper companies launch around 40,000 tourist flights each year — about 110 a day — from the Downtown Manhattan Heliport, according to industry boosters who have pledged to fight the bill. They claim banning the tourist flights would cost 200 New Yorkers their jobs and take tens of millions of dollars out of city coffers.

“If this outrageous bill passes, I’ll be out of a job, along with hundreds of other working-class New Yorkers,” said Brian Tolbert, the manager of the Downtown Manhattan Heliport and a spokesman for the industry lobby Helicopters Matter. “People’s livelihoods are on the line and we will fight to protect our jobs.”

The rotor-heads claim the tourist-flight business brings in $33 million a year, but anti-chopper activists say that is just spin. They claim the figure counts every dollar that riders spend in the city, not just ticket sales and taxes generated by the industry, and the choppers in fact cost the city money, as taxpayer dollars are used to repair and maintain the heliport.

“If you fly in from Idaho, every hot-dog, every T-shirt, every Broadway ticket goes toward that $33 million because they’re saying they came for the helicopter ride,” said anti-noise group Stop the Chop head honcho Delia von Neuschatz, who lives in lower Manhattan and compared the clatter to living in a war zone. “The fact is we are subsidizing them. The only people who really benefit are the owners.”

Brooklyn Heights and Red Hook residents have been raising hell over the helicopters since 2009, when a heliport on the west side of Manhattan closed down, and the choppers all moved to the launch-pad across the river.

More than a dozen New York and New Jersey pols — including Borough President Adams, Assemblyman Felix Ortiz (D–Red Hook), and State Sen. Daniel Squadron (D–Brooklyn Heights) — sent a letter to Mayor DeBlasio in August last year demanding the city ban the tourist trips.

The Daily News was first to report the forthcoming bill to ban the tourist ’copters.

Reach reporter Noah Hurowitz at nhurowitz@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–4505. Follow him on Twitter @noahhurowitz
Up, up, and away!: Helicopters take off across the East River from Brooklyn Heights, where residents say the constant roar of the sightseeing flights is driving them crazy.
Photo by Jason Speakman

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