Council committee demands noise reduction from sightseeing helicopters

By Tom Momberg

The City Council Committee on Environmental Protection held a hearing on a resolution calling for changes to the Federal Aviation Administration’s North Shore Helicopter Route. The resolution, introduced by Councilman Paul Vallone (D-Bayside) is aimed at reducing noise pollution over northeast Queens.

The committee also reviewed legislation proposing changes or limitations that include a potential ban on the helicopter tour industry, which follows flight paths in New York Harbor, along the Hudson and East rivers and along the north shore of Queens and Long Island.

Sightseeing helicopters do, for the most part, meet federal noise reduction standards, which is why the City Council is demanding a better effort by both the FAA and the industry to do more to consider residents’ concerns about noise and health over that of an industry that serves tourism.

Elected officials are demanding better noise mitigation standards and new flight routes.

Queens, Brooklyn and Manhattan residents, as well as parks officials and representatives of both the FAA and the helicopter tour industry, provided testimony about a situation which the Council has called “an ongoing threat to public health.”

Committee members noted they have been having discussions with industry stakeholders and the FAA to alter air traffic routes and mitigate noise that has resulted in decades of complaints, but those discussions have never resulted in changes.

Vallone’s resolution is more specifically an attempt to address the current North Shore route helicopters use mostly for tours between Manhattan and Long Island, which was put in place several years ago in response to complaints from Nassau County communities.

But legislators and residents alike have directly attributed the increase of noise pollution over northeast Queens to that route change to and from LaGuardia, which favored Long Island. The greatest number of helicopter noise complaints lodged in 311 service requests have been from Whitestone.

“The now infamous North Shore route must be re-examined to stop the assault on our quality of life for the benefit of the helicopter industry and their Hamptons commuters,” Vallone said. “I am tired of an industry that hides behind the FAA and Port Authority without offering any voluntary changes to a system that they can easily fix without legislation.”

The resolutions before the committee were tabled to give the industry stakeholders a final chance to propose noise mitigation solutions or to work with the FAA to reconfigure routes before the committee suggests a more drastic hit to the industry to ease the noise effects on residents’ health.

“If the North Shore helicopter route was created to disburse helicopter traffic over the North Shore of Long Island, then residents of Queens deserve the same consideration by the FAA,” Broadway-Flushing Homeowners Association President Robert Hanophy said in his testimony. “Otherwise, the end result is relentless helicopter traffic and intolerable noise in order to service the needs of privileged travelers with no regard to the hardships forced upon the residents of northeast Queens.”

Reach reporter Tom Momberg by e-mail at tmomb[email protected]nglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4573.

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