Schumer calls for helicopter company to end doors-off flights

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer criticizes FlyNYON's doors-off flights during a news conference Sunday.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer criticizes FlyNYON’s doors-off flights during a news conference Sunday. Photo Credit: Friends of the Brooklyn Queens Connector

Sen. Chuck Schumer on Sunday slammed a helicopter company for continuing to offer doors-off flights less than a year after one of those flights made a forced landing in the East River, killing five passengers.

While the flights remain under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration, FlyNYON, the company involved in the March crash, continues to operate the open-door flights, which take off and land in Kearny, New Jersey.

"The crash and the tragic loss of life opened the eyes of everyone to the dangers of these thrill-seeking doors-off helicopter rides," said the Senate minority leader (D-N.Y.). "I’m here to sound the alarm for potential flyers: This can be dangerous. … Flying like that defies common sense. It shouldn’t happen."

The call for FlyNYON to stop offering these doors-off flights comes after one of its tours ended in a deadly crash in the East River in March. The five passengers, who were wearing safety harnesses in addition to seat belts, fatally drowned when their helicopter then flipped over and they were unable to get out, the NTSB has said. The FDNY has said rescuers had to cut the passengers out of the harnesses to recover their bodies. The flight’s pilot survived.

Following the crash, the FAA issued a ban on flights that have passenger safety restraints that cannot be released by a single action.

A spokeswoman for FlyNYON said in an email that the company has "continued to operate in compliance with FAA regulations," and has "made numerous safety improvements since March to ensure our customers have the best possible experience with FlyNYON. We await the results of the NTSB investigation.”

The spokeswoman said FlyNYON is using its own fleet for the open-door flights, rather than chartering other helicopters as the company had done in March.

But Schumer on Sunday blasted the company for not only continuing to offer these flights, but recently enticing potential customers to take them with discounts.

"[Fly]NYON is really showing complete, complete gall by advertising, by looking for discounts in October … and by not waiting for the federal investigation," he said. "Five young people died and they continue to fly. That’s wrong, very wrong."

Schumer said he’s just targeting the doors-off flights and has no issue with other helicopter tours operating. He also said that while FlyNYON’s continued operation of open-door flights is not illegal, he would like that to change.

"But in the meantime we’re both warning tourists and urging [Fly]NYON to cease the doors-off flights," Schumer said.