Jersey City residents are guardedly optimistic that a recent decision by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will put an end to low flying helicopters that have been a nuisance and safety concern since last summer.
For months, residents in Jersey City Heights, Journal Square, and Greenville have been complaining about helicopters from a Kearny-based heliport that fly just above rooftops and trees in these communities. Noise from these aircraft has been a concern, as has the fear that in the event of an accident people in these residential areas could be seriously injured.
“These helicopters fly so low that you can actually see the numbers written on them,” said Heights resident David Sitler, who has started documenting the flights that pass over his home. Other residents in the Journal Square community have reported seeing helicopters flying so low that they can see certain details on passengers’ clothing.
Sitler and other residents said they have seen helicopters flying as early as 6 a.m. and as late as 11:30 p.m. and even after midnight.
Last week, however, came word that the FAA will specifically instruct helicopter pilots to fly at their maximum allowed altitude of 1,000 feet whenever air traffic at Newark Liberty International Airport permits.
Ward C City Councilwoman Nidia Lopez, who represents the Journal Square area and a portion of the Heights, has seen these low flying helicopters herself and has called them “scary and unacceptable.”
She said the problem began after the South Kearny-based HHI Heliport was approved and opened for business in 2011.
“The heliport in South Kearny obtained permission from Newark Liberty International Airport to fly at the maximum height of 1,000 feet, presumably in an effort to reduce noise to the communities over which they fly,” said Lopez.
The 1,000-foot maximum altitude also allows these helicopters to avoid airspace occupied by larger aircraft servicing Newark Liberty International Airport.
Ward C City Councilwoman Nidia Lopez has called these flights “scary and unacceptable.”
Last summer, Lopez began receiving letters and e-mails of complaint from constituents who said the helicopters had become a quality of life problem in their neighborhoods.
“What, if any, safety precautions are being observed?” asked Heights resident Tricia O’Cone who reached out to Lopez for help last year. “The pilots fly precariously low, it’s not impossible to think that there could be severe safety issues.”
Like Sitler, O’Cone said she has seen flights starting as early as 6:30 a.m. and continuing “well into the evening.”
Lopez reached out to U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and various state elected leaders, none of whom, she said, responded to her concerns.
Solution in sight?
Residents in Bayonne, who have also been affected, also complained to their local and state representatives. They, in turn, took these complaints to U.S. Rep. Albio Sires (NJ-8th Dist.), a member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, which has some jurisdiction over the FAA.
Sires may have extracted a promise from the agency to force the helicopters to fly closer to their maximum allowed altitude of 1,000 feet.
In a letter sent to Sires’ office from Carmine Gallo, an FAA administrator for this region, the agency vowed to have air traffic controllers at Newark Liberty International Airport “authorize higher altitudes for helicopters when air traffic permits.”
Jersey City residents are wondering, however, when these new guidelines will be implemented.
Sitler said that as late as Feb. 21 he was still seeing low-flying helicopters over his home – and he worries the problem will get worse when the warm weather arrives.
“It was worse last summer than it has been this winter, which makes me think we could be in for the same thing this spring and summer,” he said. “And we’ve heard about these new restrictions, but we really don’t know what this will mean for Jersey City yet. I was home for large portion of the day today and I can tell you there were a bunch of these helicopters that flew right over my house, just like they always do. So, I think we’re still waiting to see if there are really going to be any changes.”
E-mail E. Assata Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org.