After deadly chopper crash, northeast Queens reps call for changes to city’s helicopter policies

Photo via Twitter/@NTSB_Newsroom

While news of Sunday night’s helicopter crash into the East River continues to cause concern in the local community, some Queens lawmakers are proposing a series of reforms to prevent future similar events.

Five helicopter passengers died on March 12 after a Liberty Helicopters-owned aircraft crashed into the East River between the Upper East Side of Manhattan and Astoria.

The pilot and only survivor, 33-year-old Richard Vance, reported an engine failure on the mayday call. He was able to escape, climb to the top of the wreckage and call out for help, according to a report.

The five passengers were tightly harnessed and had to be cut out by emergency responders, Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said. Responders pulled each passenger out of the aircraft and onto shore; two individuals were declared dead at the scene and three died in area hospitals.

The group was flying along a popular sight-seeing route as part of a private charter. The accident is being investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board.

Frequent helicopter traffic has long been a concern in the northeast Queens community, where the aircrafts fly overhead on the North Shore Helicopter Route. It was established in 2008 after numerous noise complaints were filed from communities in Long Island in reference to helicopters traveling between Long Island and Manhattan.

To alleviate noise on Long Island, helicopters are now being directed to fly along the north shore of the land. However, this protection does not extend to northeast Queens, where helicopters continue to fly over areas of College Point, Whitestone and Bay Terrace.

Residents have expressed their concerns with helicopter traffic “for a very long time,” Bayside-based state Senator Tony Avella said in a statement on March 12.

“I think I speak for all New Yorkers when I say that our hearts break for the victims and their families and that they will forever be remembered in our thoughts and in our prayers,” he said. “While it is too soon to jump to conclusions as we are still waiting to hear all of the details, we must still look to what can be done to prevent anything like this from ever happening again.”

There is currently “very limited regulation” when it comes to helicopter routes, the lawmaker also said.

In response, Avella introduced legislation in the state Senate that would authorize and direct the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to control helicopter routes within its jurisdiction. The bill is currently in committee.

“Granting authority to the Port Authority to control helicopter routes within its jurisdiction will allow for better control of the noise pollution and quality of life issues that helicopter traffic creates,” the legislation reads. “By increasing regulations of these routes, we can minimize the negative effects to quality of life to residents that while still maintaining efficient helicopter routes.”

Another northeast Queens representative also recently called for changes to local helicopter regulations. At the end of February, Councilman Paul Vallone announced he re-introduced a resolution calling on the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to make changes to the North Shore Helicopter Route.

“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,” said Vallone, who also serves as chair of the Committee on Economic Development. “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.”

On March 8, Congressman Tom Suozzi, who also represents northeast Queens, backed Vallone’s resolution. The representative penned a letter to Daniel K. Elwell, Acting Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration, to show his support.

“The FAA has a responsibility to develop long-term strategies to alleviate unreasonable helicopter noise,” he said. “I am in full support of Council Member Vallone’s resolution, and I call upon the FAA to seriously review our proposals.”

Suozzi also serves as co-chair of the Quiet Skies Caucus in Congress.

George Mirtsopoulos, vice president of the We Love Whitestone Civic Association, said the local community has fought against the route, which has brought noise and health and safety concerns to the area, for years.

“The overwhelming number of helicopters and sea planes that fly directly over our homes has had a negative impact on our health and quality of life,” he said. “From Memorial Day to Labor Day, the amount of air traffic makes it impossible to enjoy any outdoor activity in our communities.”