HOBOKEN, N.J. (CBSNewYork) – New Jersey’s senior U.S. senator and some New York politicians have called for a ban on tourist helicopters that buzz up and down the Hudson River.
U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) were among many who called for a ban on tourist helicopters along the waterway, saying they create an unacceptable racket and cause safety concerns.
“For months, we’ve been talking with stakeholders, convening roundtable discussions, and trying to take steps towards a rational way to deal with these helicopters, but the time for talk is long over,” said Menendez. “It is time for the FAA to use any-and-every tool they have to shut down these helicopters and put an end to this problem, and if they don’t have the tools they need, then we will do all we can to make sure they have them.”
“We are concerned about the safety implications of unregulated tourist helicopter flights, as well as the helicopters’ impact on quality of life in neighborhoods in both States that experience take-offs and landings or heavy flyover helicopter traffic,” officials wrote in a letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio. “To address these real quality of life issues of residents of New York and New Jersey and to protect the safety of helicopter users we urge you to eliminate all tourist flights and traffic from the City owned Downtown Heliport as soon as possible. The status quo of largely unregulated flights that endanger tourists and disturb the peace in Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx, Staten Island and New Jersey neighborhoods is unacceptable.”
“Helicopter tourism benefits a select few at the expense of everyone who calls this area home,” said Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer.
“It’s annoying to residents and businesses alike,” said Menendez.
A spokesman for the helicopter industry took issue with the proposal.
As CBS 2’s Tony Aiello reported, some tourists find the helicopter rides absolutely thrilling. Russian tourist Verushka Cekpet was in the helicopter for 15 minutes and the flight cost her $175, but she said it was worth every penny.
“We looked at the Ellis Island, the Statue of Liberty, pretty much most of southern Manhattan, and Central Park too,” Cekpet said. “It was fantastic. Oh my gosh.”
But those who have the Hudson River in their backyard agreed with Menendez and the other lawmakers that the chopper flights are annoying and it is time for them to go.
“It’s an endless drone, it’s very disturbing. They fly very low,” said Marcia Wesoky of Weehawken, New Jersey.
“It’s like living on a landing strip here,” said Charles Wesoky of Weehawken as he looked skyward.
“You can see right now — one (helicopter) went by, and another one is coming right now.”
Residents said action from the Federal Aviation Administration is the only acceptable action.
“That’s exactly what we want — three letters, B-A-N – we want a ban on air tour helicopters in this corridor,” said Brian Wagner, co-founder of the group Stop the Chop.
The industry, of course, is fighting back against any effort to ground their birds.
“The changes being proposed would significantly alter the federally regulated National Airspace system and harm the local New Jersey economy,” said Jeff Smith, Vice President of the Eastern Regional Helicopter Council. “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.”
Smith called the helicopter business a “critical contributor to our local economy and – as we witnessed after Superstorm Sandy – to our region’s emergency response services.”
The companies feel they have been very flexible in addressing critics concerns. They noted that they have consolidated operations at a single heliport and have agreed to reduce hours and adjust altitudes.
And Cekpet said the helicopter critics should just take a chopper ride themselves.
“I advise all the people who are bothered by the helicopters – take the ride, you’re going to feel the joy,” she said.
CBS 2 asked the two New York U.S. senators if they would support a ban on tourist helicopters. A spokesman said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand will withhold judgment until she sees a specific proposal, while the office of Sen. Charles Schumer did not respond.
On Aug. 8, 2009, nine people were killed.a tour helicopter and a small plane were involved in a midair collision over the Hudson River.
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