FAA, Private Choppers Create Secret Deal That May Make River Travel Dangerous

Lawmaker Sounds Off On 'Holes' That Could Put Other Small Aircraft In Danger

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — New details came to light Monday about a seemingly dangerous agreement between the Federal Aviation Administration and private helicopter tour companies.

It’s an agreement that could put tourist choppers on a collision course with small planes in the airspace over the Hudson River.

CBS 2’s Marcia Kramer has more on the “under the radar” deal that has at least one congresswoman fuming.

“I think it’s outrageous and dangerous,” Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-Manhattan, said.

WCBS 880’s Marla Diamond On The Story

Just a week after a helicopter crash in the East River killed one tourist and seriously injured two others there is word that the FAA and the city’s tourist helicopter companies struck a deal that could pose even more problems in the skies over the city. The change creates two “holes” for helicopters to drop into the small aircraft corridor along the Hudson and East rivers.

“I’d like to see non-essential air flight reduced and made safer. I believe that air traffic controllers should be involved in helicopter flights and in small plane flights so that we don’t have collisions like we had in 2009,” Rep. Maloney said.

Pilot and aviation safety advocate Ken Paskar of Manhattan called it insane and a safety risk.

“The other problem about this is it was done very much under the radar. Pilots who are flying these fixed-wing aircraft are surprised when they see the helicopter flights in their reserved airspace,” he told WCBS 880 reporter Marla Diamond.

On Aug. 8, 2009 nine people died when a tour helicopter taking off from the 30th Street Heliport collided with a small plane over the Hudson. An air traffic controller was ruled to be partially at fault. After the accident air space rules were supposed to be tightened, but some critics say the new deal — which allows choppers and small aircraft in the same corridor between 1,000 and 1,300 feet up — has some, well, holes in it.

The FAA says that if your chopper enters the same zone as a small plane you’re supposed to self announce at places like the George Washington Bridge and the Statue of Liberty. Under the deal tourist helicopters report to air traffic controllers only if they’re flying above 1,300 feet.

A spokesman for the city’s tourist helicopter industry defended the new plan.

“The plan was developed to ensure the safety of these flights, as well as to reduce the number of flights over sensitive areas and lower the impacts to local communities,” said Jeffrey Smith, chairman of the Eastern Region Helicopter Council.

The deal also eliminated tourist flights over Central Park and the Empire State Building due to local noise concerns.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a helicopter pilot himself, defended the deal, saying every pilot follows the FAA rules explicitly or they lose their license.

Do you think New York City tourist helicopter flights should be grounded? Sound off below!

More from Marcia Kramer
  • Avi

    The calls for bans have little if anything to do with “safety”, and everything to do with people who don’t like them wanting to get rid of them.

    Though they are based in NJ, the tour copters provide significant revenue to the city, and as they operate solely over the water, pose no “safety hazard” to anyone on land.

    I can make the same argument against all the Long-Island based mobile food vendors who park on city streets for free every day, pay little or no tax to the city, and create significant amounts of aural, air, and ground pollution so that they can sell Halal meat or pizza.

    The same argument can also apply to all the cabs that drive around the city, most simply driving around looking for fares.

    If you want a bucolic, noise-free living environment, you need consider moving out of the city, instead of trying to ban every noise-generating vehicle that operates here.

  • noisecopter

    The whole car comparison is absurd and meant as a not very well thought out distraction from the real issue.The volume of tourist helicopter departing from the downtown heliport is obscene.With no real oversight except for the tour companies themselves it has become a very dangerous situation. In Brooklyn we have had over 30 flights per hour passing above us at times . The noise levels are off the charts. I think it’s about time tax paying residents took precedence over NJ based helicopter sightseeing tours. The whole tourist dollar song and dance is political grandstanding by NYCEDC and Mayor Bloomberg. Visitors will gladly spend money elsewhere.

  • Bill Hudson

    These birds are a major noise problem and a disruption of my persuit of happiness, simply to benefit the out of town vistors, while disturbing local tax paying citizens. I invite anyone to attempt to enjoy outdoor social activities along the river front in Weehawken, Hoboken and hear the problem. DB levels reach nearly 100.

  • anonymous

    maybe this should be a lead for another story – why do choppers hover so low downtown for such extended periods???? its so annoying!!!!!!

  • Jayne

    In a word, No.

    The accident last week was in no way caused by the pilot not following rules. In all likelyhood, it was caused by an equipment malfunction.

    Political grandstanding does nothing to solve the problem. Maybe Maloney should stop riding in cars, There ar fatal accidents in them every day.

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