Fears oftourist helicopters packing East River air space and perhaps taking side trips over the borough are spreading in Brooklyn Heights.
That after the city’s recent decision to move the helicopter tourist industry from the West Side Heliport at West 30th to the Downtown Manhattan Heliport just across the East River from Brooklyn Heights.
“If you live in Columbia Heights you hear them (helicopters at the Downtown Manhattan Heliport) idling on the tarmac, but this is more about safety,” said Brooklyn Heights Association Executive Director Judy Stanton, who testified against the move at a recent City Council hearing.
Stanton urged the City Council to better regulate the helicopter industry which the BHA believes contributes to the dangerous level of helicopter traffic above New York City and Brooklyn.
Stanton cited the recent tragic accident in which nine people died in a mid-air collision between a tourist helicopter and a private airplane over the Hudson River in an unregulated air corridor where pilots are required to do no more than “see and avoid” each other.
“Thankfully, such collisions do not happen every day, but that is not reason enough to allow the industry to continue operating with virtually no clear rules for use of the air above a densely populated city like New York,” said Stanton. “The collision could have been above the East River, or over downtown Brooklyn or Manhattan rooftops.”
The move of the tourist helicopter industry to the Downtown Manhattan Heliport stems from the Friends of the Hudson River successfully suing Air Pegasus, the operator of the West Side heliport last year.
Under the settlement, Air Pegasus agreed to limit to 12,500 helicopter flights during the 10-month period that ends March 31, 2010, and then the tourist flights will be phased out completely.
The heliport, which was the takeoff point for the helicopter involved in the fateful crash, will still be used for corporate charters and emergency flights.
However, in light of the settlement, the city’s Economic Development Corporation (EDC) announced it is shifting all the helicopter tourist rides to the city-owned Downtown Manhattan Heliport.
Alvin Trenk owns and operates Air Pegasus. He also sits on the board of directors of Liberty, the helicopter tour company, and First Flight, the operators of the Downtown Manhattan Heliport.
Additionally, Trenk’s family are minority owners of Liberty and First Flight.
A Trenk spokesperson said he is unreachable for comment.
EDC spokesperson Dave Lombino said as the sightseeing flights at West 30th Street heliport are phased out, the agency is going to manage the capacity at the Downtown Heliport, balancing the community needs and safety.
“We’ve been working and will continue to work with the FAA, helicopter operators and the several communities, including Brooklyn Heights, on noise mitigation issues,” Lombino said.
In 2008, a total of 409,325 passengers took the helicopter rides from the 34th street, 30th street, and Downtown Manhattan Heliports.
About 300,000 are tourist passengers and 100,000 are corporate/charter passengers.
The move comes as the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) does little to regulate helicopters around the city.
“A helicopter can fly at very low altitudes because of the way they are designed,” said FAA spokesperson Arlene Salac.
“There are some helicopter routes across the metropolitan area, but they don’t have to use them. Primarily, tour operators are following VFR (Visual Flight Rules) up and down the Hudson River, but tourist helicopters can operate in other metropolitan areas as long as the abide by proper air space.”
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