In the 1970s, a crash of a helicopter on the top of what was then the Pan Am building near Grand Central Station caused a public outcry that brought to a halt routine helicopter traffic inside the city.
As a result, a plethora of helipads cropped up on the fringes of Manhattan and parts of Hudson County. Helicopters allowed tourists to view some of the harbor icons such as the Statue of Liberty, and business people to bypass public transportation for easier access to Manhattan.
A recent crash in the Hudson River—while not as traumatic as the 1970s Manhattan crash—became symbolic of a problem that local elected officials have been dealing with for years.
Following the crash of a fixed wing aircraft on Route 46, Former Rep. Steve Rothman and elected officials in Southern Bergen County and Secaucus raised the concern of danger and annoying low-flying aircraft at Teterboro Airport in the 1990s and managed to get air traffic diverted away from residential areas.
But the problem has been growing again, both over Secaucus and other parts of Hudson County.
“It’s not the tourists helicopters,” said Freeholder Chairman Anthony Romano last week after he had attended a meeting with state and federal officials at Teterboro to plead the case for tighter regulations on low-flying helicopters. “The tourists’ operators say they are closing down by 7 p.m. and flying away from residential areas. The problem seems to be coming from two helipads, one near Paulus Hook in Jersey City and the other in Kearny.”
Bayonne Mayor Mark Smith and Bayonne Councilman Ray Grieves both raised concerns about the Kearny facility earlier this year because many of the low-flying helicopters that come over Bayonne originate there.
Romano said the Kearny facility also serves as a maintenance facility for helicopters, so many are serviced there, and fly out from that site.
“It’s a concern,” Romano said. “The Freeholders have passed a resolution supporting Senator Menendez and Congressman Sires in their efforts to control this problem.”
U.S. Senator Robert Menendez and Rep. Albio Sires were among the other public officials who attended a symposium on the impact of tourist helicopters held by Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Eastern Regional Administrator Carmine Gallo. But both Menendez and Sires urged federal authorities to take action to uphold the safety and quality of life of residents in New Jersey's Hudson River waterfront communities.
“Administrator Gallo’s making good on his promise to hold a symposium on tourist helicopter flights is a step toward remedying the impact of tourist helicopters on New Jersey residents,” said Menendez. “But this week’s symposium must lead to action that ensures the public’s interests are held in higher priority than commercial interests. The time to act is now, before a tragedy strikes. I am committed to exhausting every one of our options in providing our communities along the Hudson River the relief they need.”
“It is very important that the concerns of the residents along the Hudson River waterfront be addressed,” said Sires. “I am pleased that FAA Administrator Gallo as well as the stakeholders involved took the time to come together to further look for solutions to solve this critical issue on behalf of the residents of my Congressional District. The business of having tourist helicopters at our expense is unacceptable.”
The symposium held at Teterboro Airport on Tuesday, Aug. 27, was called at the requests of Menendez and Sires after a meeting of local residents, officials and FAA officials said at the end of July. Among the nuisances reported at that meeting were windows rattling at daycare centers, helicopter noise heard at 10:45 p.m., and tourist helicopters flying at altitudes half as low as they fly in New York City.
The symposium brought together a variety of aviation experts and stakeholders including FAA officials, representatives of the tourist helicopter trade industry, law enforcement, and a representative of the New York City Economic Development Corporation, and Chairman of the Eastern Region Helicopter Council Jeff Smith. Many New Jersey residents attended, as well.
Among the recommendations made to the FAA by Senator Menendez, Congressman Sires, and the elected officials that represent the Hudson River waterfront are: requiring helicopters fly higher and farther away from the New Jersey banks of the Hudson River, requiring helicopters to fly less frequently, improving the monitoring of flights over the Hudson River, and providing better helicopter flight security.
Among the other elected officials present were Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer, Guttenberg Mayor Gerry Drascheff, Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner, West New York Commissioner Carridad Rodriguez, Hoboken Councilwoman Beth Mason, Dominick Bauer, representing Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop, and Hudson County Freeholder Romano.
“This was a good sign of leadership by Menendez and Sires,” Romano said. “This has to come to a head. I have two concerns about quality of life, which is the noise from the helicopters and the safety issue. We need to know where they are flying and how. They are supposed to stay over the water. We want to know if anyone is checking on them.”
While Romano said many in the public are blaming the tourist helicopters, he’s been told that most of the low-flying traffic at night comes from the heliport at Paulus Hook and the Kearny repair facility.
“The pilots of the tourist helicopters and the tourist representatives are telling us that they stop by 7 p.m.,” Romano said, noting that officials cannot ask for a ban.
“My suggestion is pragmatic,” he said. “We can’t ban them. But we need to use technology to muffle the noise and we have to enforce strict regulations. These helicopters got pushed out of New York and now they’re flying over Hudson County. They affect quality of life in North Bergen, Union City, Hoboken, Guttenberg, Weehawken, and other towns.
Business Administrator Gallo is apparently committed to reviewing the recommendations to see which agencies could best implement them and report back to the senator, congressman, and other stakeholders within a month.”
“They stack up at a heliport in Kearny,” Greaves said when he, along with the City of Bayonne, filed a complaint with the Federal Aviation Administration earlier this year.
“The quality of life of our residents has suffered due to the constant noise being generated by these aircraft, and we are all concerned about the frequency and dangerously low altitudes at which these helicopters are flying over our neighborhoods.”
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.