The city has reached a surprise deal to reduce the helicopter-tour traffic thundering in and out of the busy Downtown Manhattan Heliport by half over the next year, and eliminate all flights on Sundays, the mayor’s office announced late on Friday.
“We’ve reached an agreement that will significantly cut down on the number of helicopter tours near residential areas and major parks, while keeping this part of our tourism sector active and viable,” Mayor de Blasio said in a statement. “Everyone gave a little to get to this outcome, but the solution will mean a more livable city for everyone.”
The agreement requires tour operators to cut by half the number of flights at the Pier 6 heliport by January 2017, and to end all flights on Sundays by April 1 this year. The reduction will be phased in over the course of the year, with a 20-percent reduction form 2015 levels beginning June 1, and a 40-percent reduction by Oct. 1. The city estimates that by this time next year, the agreement will have eliminated nearly 30,000 helicopter flights annually.
“The din of helicopters has been a major quality of life issue for New Yorkers living near heavily trafficked routes,” said de Blasio. “Today we’re addressing it.”
And none too soon. The deal was hammered out by the city’s Economic Development Corporation, which owns the Downtown Manhattan Heliport, in order to preempt far more drastic legislation under consideration by the Council that would effectively banish the helicopter-tour industry from Manhattan.
A chorus of Downtown elected officials who have been crusading against the tour-chopper scourge hailed the deal, including state Sen. Daniel Squadron, Congressman Jerrold Nadler, Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez, Borough President Gale Brewer, and Assemblymember Deborah Glick.
“The Mayor’s deal with the helicopter industry is a positive step in our years-long battle to eliminate this nuisance,” they said in a joint statement late on Friday. “We hope that it will have a real impact on the communities we represent.”
The councilmembers who pushed the chopper-banning bill claimed victory for forcing the E.D.C.’s hand.
“As councilmembers, we are proud to have pushed forward legislation that helped give our constituents a voice and a rallying point in the fight to reduce noise and air pollution caused by the increasing number of tourist helicopter flights,” said councilmembers Margaret Chin of Downtown, Helen Rosenthal of the Upper West Side, and Carlos Menchaca of Brooklyn in a joint statement.
Helicopter tour operators will have to provide monthly reports on the number of flights to the E.D.C. and the Council, and if they are determined to have violated key terms of the agreement, the E.D.C. will have authority to impose further reductions in allowed flights.
Saker Aviation, the concessionaire for the Downtown Manhattan Heliport, also agreed to establish a system to monitor air quality in the vicinity of the heliport and provide monthly reports to the E.D.C. and the Council. Saker has also promised to reduce idling by helicopters between flights.