Helicopter tours to be cut in Half

| 03 Feb 2016 | 04:28

Residents along the Hudson can look forward to quieter Sundays. City officials earlier this week announced a long-sought agreement that will curtail helicopter traffic and the accompanying clamor and pollution over Manhattan while maintaining the helicopter tourism industry.

Within a year, tour operators will be required to reduce flights from the Downtown Manhattan Heliport at Pier 6, from where all of the city’s helicopter tourism flights take off and land, by 50 percent, according to the agreement, which was outlined in a release from the New York City Economic Development Corp. In addition, flights will not be permitted on Sundays or over Governor’s Island.

According to the agreement, tourism flights will decline by 20 percent from 2015 levels starting June 1 and by 40 percent in October. By January 2017, nearly 30,000 flights a year will have been eliminated, the Economic Development Corp. said. Sunday flights will cease April 1. Saker Aviation, the concessionaire for the downtown heliport, will also be required to provide monthly written reports verifying their activities as well as establish a system to monitor and report air quality.

“As Council Members, we are proud to have pushed forward legislation that helped give our constituents a voice and a rallying point in the fight to reduce noise and air pollution caused by the increasing number of tourist helicopter flights,” Councilmembers Carlos Menchaca, Helen Rosenthal and Margaret Chin said in a statement. The monitoring components are critical to keeping the industry’s accountable, they said.

Not everyone is satisfied with the agreement. Adrian Benepe, senior vice president of City Park Development at Trust for Public Land said, “Sadly this will still mean 175 flights a day — or 350 fly-bys — over our neighborhoods and parks.”

Although Benepe is still calling for a ban on “polluting, noisy helicopters,” a 50 percent reduction “is a start,” he said.

Stop the Chop NYNJ, a nonprofit grassroots organization that has long campaigned against the tours, was also critical. “The so-called deal to cut some tourist helicopter flights is nothing more than an industry PR ploy & is unacceptable,” a release from the organization said.

Rosenthal said a council bill that would have banned the tours outright was being held “in abeyance, for now.”

Still, she called the agreement a victory. “After decades of getting nowhere — residents will now get some relief. We will monitor assiduously,” she said.

In the face of the complete shutdown spelled out in the council bill, Sam Goldstein, deputy director of the Helicopter Tourism and Jobs Council, was understandably pleased with the deal. “This agreement will allow tour operators to continue providing hundreds of good jobs for New Yorkers and more than $50 million in annual economic impact to the City,” he said.

Many question the industry’s economic impact on the city, however. According to Saker Aviation’s annual report, the city collects between $1.2 and $1.7 million each year as part of the concession agreement, or less than .003 percent of the mayor’s proposed 2016-17 budget of $81.7 billion.

Among other provisions, the agreement calls for the curtailment of idling by tour helicopters and for active research by the concessionaire for technologies that minimize noise and emissions and promote fuel efficiency.

NYCEDC President Maria Torres-Springer praised the deal calling it a “triple win” for residents, the tourism industry, and the city’s transportation infrastructure.