Op-Ed | Is Mayor Pete the answer to NYC’s big noise problem?

Democratic 2020 U.S. presidential candidate former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg attends the Ministers’ Breakfast hosted by National Action Network in North Charleston
Democratic 2020 U.S. presidential candidate former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg attends the Ministers’ Breakfast hosted by National Action Network in North Charleston, South Carolina, U.S., February 26, 2020. (REUTERS/Eric Thayer)

By David Weprin

New Yorkers are no strangers to noise – ambulance and firetruck sirens, the honking of horns in congested traffic, car alarms, and construction are hallmark sounds of our great city – but a more concerning noise has become a daily presence, helicopters. Over the past year, noise complaints related to helicopters have gone through the roof, increasing over 130% from last year, even with helicopter sightseeing trips banned from March to July of this year due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Widespread helicopter noise over the City has become more than just a nuisance – it has become a true danger to our people. Helicopter crashes, many of which are deadly, are not a distant memory for New Yorkers – we stood in fear as a helicopter crashed into a skyscraper on 7th Avenue last June, we wept when a crash in March of 2018 left 5 people dead, and we were utterly horrified when an August 2009 crash killed nine. The list of incidents goes on, and the gravity of these crashes should have been a call to action long ago for our legislators to step up and make a change. With a new presidential administration incoming, we must call on President-elect Biden and former presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, who has been tapped to head the Department of Transportation, to revisit this issue and regulate the FAA. Pete Buttigieg gained fame as a wunderkind of the 2020 cycle, but can he enact real change as DOT Secretary?

Because helicopters are regulated by the FAA, states like New York have been left powerless to put a stop to these reckless flights, allowing the administration to ignore the pleas of our City. I applaud Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer for inviting officials from New York and New Jersey to come together to form a task force to address this issue. But it has become clear that we need to be doing more to protect the best interests of New Yorkers. No longer can we allow our great city to be taken advantage of at the expense of our own people – the time for action is now.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been all-consuming, occupying not only the daily media but our daily lives as well. However, we cannot let the very serious safety concerns of our people fall by the wayside – it is time for these low flying helicopters to go.

A look at the popular website and app, FlightRadar24, will produce a terrifying image of helicopters whirring aimlessly over New York throughout the day, very few of which are NYPD helicopters operating on official business.

The noise pollution over the city has become unbearable for New Yorkers, with the biggest rises in complaints coming from the East Side of Manhattan, the Upper West Side, Northern Queens, and Brooklyn. These are communities we need to stand up for. Especially now, when families across New York are struggling with working and learning from home, making them acutely aware of the increased noise, the new administration must enact legislation to ban these reckless flights.

Many of these tourist helicopters are operated outside of the City, often based in New Jersey or Connecticut, allowing them to dodge current restrictions and exploit New York for money and tourism while negatively impacting the lives of the people who live here. This is unacceptable.

U.S. Representative Carolyn Maloney was brave to introduce a bill in the House federally banning all non-essential helicopter traffic last year, but if the Senate continues to drag their feet, and the FAA refuses to regulate these dangerous helicopters, we must urge the incoming Biden administration and new Department of Transportation to revisit this issue with fresh eyes. It’s time for Pete Buttigieg to show what he can do. We cannot accept inaction any longer.

David Weprin is a member of the New York State Assembly and candidate for New York City Comptroller. On Twitter @DavidWeprin.