published Friday, August 8th, 2014

Ban sought on Hudson River helicopter tours

HOBOKEN, N.J. — Tourists who want a bird's-eye view of the New York City skyline might be out of luck.

U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey joined local officials from both sides of the Hudson River in Hoboken on Friday to call for a ban on tourist helicopter flights.

Interrupted repeatedly by the buzzing sounds of helicopters, officials said the flights are a threat to the quality of life and public safety of waterfront residents.

"There's simply too much helicopter traffic and not enough oversight," said Menendez, who said the volume of flights has skyrocketed it recent years. A sightseeing helicopter and a small aircraft collided over the river in 2009, killing nine people. Another crash in 2011 killed an Australian tourist.

Officials have worked for more than a year with the New York City Economic Development Corporation, which oversees the busy Downtown Manhattan Heliport, as well as state and federal officials, to try to solve the problem. But Menendez said the conversations have gone nowhere, with constant finger-pointing.

Unless a solution is reached, he said, he'll push for legislation banning the flights when the Federal Aviation Administration's reauthorization comes up next year.

"Since the industry has been unresponsive and the governmental agencies don't seem to have the wherewithal to get this done, we will," he said.

EDC Spokesman Ian Fried said the city takes the complaints seriously and is in discussions "to determine how we can best address them and help alleviate this disturbance."

But he pointed to statistics showing complaints about helicopters are down 80 percent since changes were implemented in 2010. The majority now concern helicopters outside of the city's jurisdiction, including emergency services, news and charter flights.

The FAA and New Jersey Department of Transportation did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Residents along the waterfront complained of constant noise loud enough to shake their windows, interrupt conversations and keep them from using local parks.

Charles Wesoky, 70, of Weehawken, said that as frequently as every 15 seconds, the flights pass by the home he moved to to escape the noise of Manhattan.

"It's like being on a landing strip here in an airport," he said.

Jeff Smith, the vice president of the Eastern Regional Helicopter Council industry group, pointed to a recent study the group commissioned that found the helicopter tourism industry generates more than $33 million in economic activity each year and supports hundreds of local jobs. He said the proposed changes would hurt the local economy.

"Our helicopter owners remain committed to working collaboratively with local officials to find reasonable solutions that don't strip New York and New Jersey of hundreds of jobs, millions of dollars in revenue and vital emergency response services," he said in a statement.

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