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NYC sees an uptick in helicopter noise complaints

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The city and copter operators disagree on who, exactly, is to blame

A helicopter landing in a heliport, the Manhattan and Brooklyn skylines behind it. Roman Babakin/Shutterstock.com

There are three commercial heliports in the New York City area, according to the state’s Department of Transportation: one in Downtown Manhattan, another one on West 30th Street, and one on East 34th Street.

And in the past year, a Wall Street Journal analysis found, there’s been a surge in helicopter noise complaints in NYC, with a chunk of those coming from the area adjacent to the East 34th Street heliport.

In 2018, according to the WSJ analysis of 311 city data, there were a total of 640 complaints about helicopters, while this year there have already been 1,171. Places that received the most complaints include Midtown Manhattan, areas around Central Park, and parts of Queens and Brooklyn. WSJ says that in the area adjacent to the East 34th Street Heliport, owned by the city’s Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC), there were 280 complaints through August 26. However, NYCEDC noted that around 50 percent of those complaints were made outside the heliport’s hours of operation (it operates Monday through Friday).

But there might be different reasons for the uptick—and no one seems to agree on what those are or who is to blame.

City officials told WSJ that the noise reports may be coming from a number of households filing several complaints. Anthony Grubic of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association said that based on the location of many of the complaints, a New Jersey-based helicopter tour company called FlyNYON may be the cause.

But the CEO of FlyNYON, Patrick Day, disagreed with that in a conversation with WSJ, saying that the company’s helicopters fly too high—over 2,500 feet over Midtown—to generate noise complaints, and don’t land or take off in the city. Day pinned the reason for the uptick on helicopter ride-sharing company Blade, which flies helicopters from NYC’s airports to the Hamptons, but a spokesperson for Blade said that their helicopters fly mostly over water, and not near buildings, unlike FlyNYON.

Back in 2016, NYCEDC and the Helicopter Tourism and Jobs Council announced measures to reduce helicopter noise in NYC, cutting the number of tour operator flights to and from Downtown Manhattan Heliport by 50 percent, eliminating 30,000 flights per year; ending all flights on Sundays; and prohibiting flights over Governor’s Island.

And last year, the EDC banned doors-off helicopter tourism flights from operating out of the Downtown Manhattan Heliport following a fatal March 2018 tourist helicopter accident.