‘Stop the chop’: Manhattan elected officials push for helicopter noise reduction legislation

Helicopter noise legislation press conference
A collective of elected officials announced Sunday a plan to reduce the noise caused by non-essential aircraft.
Photo by Dean Moses

They just want to clear the air — of helicopter noise.

Congress Members Carolyn Maloney, Jerrold Nadler, and Nydia Velázquez banded together at the 34th Street Heliport, on the East River waterfront in Midtown, Sunday to pitch new legislation that would see the skies over the Big Apple grow a little more peaceful by reducing non-essential aircraft.

The heliport hosts private aviation services including BLADE Lounge East and Atlantic Aviation 6N5, shuttling those who can afford to ride the costly choppers as they please. But the luxurious transportation comes with irksome noise that residents experience — and the potential risk of disaster.

“Of all the issues that we hear about from our constituents, helicopter noise and danger is one of the most common that is raised to us,” Congresswoman Maloney said. “I’ve heard stories that in the tall buildings they look out of the windows, they see the helicopters– they’re afraid the winds are gonna sweep them right into the building.”

Photo by Dean Moses

In response, the three Congress members are proposing the Helicopter Safety and Noise Management Act. This legislation would create a commission composed of the Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), members of the local and state government, and helicopter noise and safety advocates who say they are negatively impacted by helicopter noise.

Through this commission, the lawmakers say a usage management plan can be developed to substantially reduce the number of non-essential helicopter flights.

“Since 1982, there have been at least 30 helicopter crashes in New York City. Twenty-five people have lost their lives. So, what are we waiting for? The next accident to happen?” Velázquez asked. 

Nydia Velázquez. Photo by Dean Moses

According to the lawmakers, between October 2019 and October 2020, aircraft noise complaints skyrocketed 130%. New York’s 311 hotline also reports receiving more than 17,000 calls regarding noise through the end of September 2021.

BLADE, an aviation company that works out of 499 East 34th Street’s heliport, also weighed on the concerns and proposed act, telling amNewYork Metro that while they agree with some aspects of the bill there is more to the issue than simply tourism.

“We agree with our elected officials that tourism helicopters that take off from New Jersey and Westchester and bus people into New York while disregarding noise abatement rules, altitude rules, flight route rules, and curfews should cease to operate. Those tourist flights fly over the Manhattan cityscape at low altitudes circling landmarks in order to give tourists good views as opposed to point A to point B flights like the ones BLADE operates. BLADE does not operate tourist helicopter flights,” a spokesperson form BLADE said.

BLADE also said that they understand the noise concerns, which is why they have worked toward minimizing the impact of noise from their helicopters; however, areas like the West 30th Street Heliport are a critical piece of transportation used to transport human organs by BLADE’s MediMobility division.

“This is for the transplant of human organs to save the lives of New Yorkers every day. The West Side heliport is the only heliport in New York City open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. This is of critical importance as it is the only heliport in our City that is open and available at any moment with the availability of dedicated aircraft to provide local hospitals the ability to have cost-effective, rapid movement of organs and transplant teams to improve patient outcomes – in addition to other emergency services that save lives. In order to offer these life saving services, BLADE must continue to operate our local point A to point B flights which allow us the ability to reduce the cost of organ transplant flights for hospitals and patients in the local area,” the BLADE spokesperson added.

Melissa Elstein, a member of Stop the Chop NY/NJ, has been fighting against unnecessary aircraft noise for years and hopes that this legislation will help minimize non-essential helicopter flights over NYC.

Fellow elected officials like Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine who also support the bill and challenges tourists to forgo the pricey flight over the skyline and instead walk the city streets. 

“You don’t need a helicopter ride. Here is something radical: walk! Walk the neighborhoods of Manhattan and New York City. It’s the best way to experience our city. And if you want a view, go to the top of the Empire State Building, go to top of the rock,” Levine said.

BLADE adds that air travel is an important aspect of large cities like New York.

“New York City needs an urban air mobility strategy to compete with leading cities of the world. We look forward to working with Congresswoman Maloney to find a solution to address the legitimate noise concerns without negatively impacting the heliport businesses and the legitimate non-tourist flights that help the business to business community in New York and offer service to everyday New Yorkers traveling to and from local airports,” a BLADE spokesperson said. 

Photo by Dean Moses