Upper West Side residents, fed up with low-flying aircraft, are speaking out. On a two-hour Zoom call last Tuesday, the transportation committee for Community Board 7 spent most of the time airing their grievances about noise and environmental damage caused by private helicopters.
With many residents working from home and commuting to residences outside of the city, due to the pandemic, the helicopter noise is escalating, said committee members, with a consensus that it’s become worse during the day, compared to previous years. A few CB7 members said they would like to make aircraft noise a campaign issue in the New York mayoral race.
Helicopter noise over Manhattan is not a new issue, but residents hoped lawmakers would have intervened by now. In October 2019, seven New York members of Congress, including Rep. Jerry Nadler and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, introduced a federal bill that would ban helicopters flying over cities of more than 8 million people, unless they were law enforcement, emergency, medical or military aircraft.
April Adams, a community liaison for CB7, said that a helicopter task force created by Manhattan Borough president Gale Brewer had reconvened last year but yielded no results. The task force was founded in support of Stop the Chop, a New York and New Jersey grassroots organization aimed to ban non-essential helicopters, particularly those operated by private companies, from flying over New York City.
Committee member Melissa Elstein said that she hoped there would be a new national administration in November, “because there is no getting this done with the GOP.”
Andrew Albert, another transportation committee member, said that the Federal Aviation Agency “will do nothing” to address aircraft noise and neither will Mayor Bill de Blasio. After meeting with Rep. Nadler’s office to voice his concerns, Albert said, “Don’t look for any help from Washington is the message I got here.”
Several attendees complained about private flights coming from Teterboro Airport, in New Jersey, saying that there was a lot of additional noise on Fridays and Sundays, when some New Yorkers fly to the Hamptons and upstate for the weekend.
Meanwhile, some Upper West Siders have started keeping tabs on aircraft flying over their residences. Committee member Doug Kleiman, who is studying to become a pilot, said that he monitors the air traffic from where he lives using a scanner and a “good pair of binoculars.”
Elstein recommended that other members download Flight Radar 24, a free app that tracks planes and helicopters on a map in real-time, showing each aircraft’s point of origin, destination, owner and photo of the specific aircraft model. Elstein said people should look out for “companies with a bad reputation.” She specifically mentioned FLYNON, a sightseeing company known for “doors off” flights, as well as Liberty, a helicopter sightseeing company that had three crashes in 11 years, including a 2018 crash in the East River that left 5 people dead.
Another Upper West Side resident said that she makes a note of every flight she hears. Constanze Doerr, who lives on 94th Street and Broadway, said she tracks flights going toward Central Park. She said that on a clear weekend, there’s a new helicopter every one or two minutes between 9 a.m. and 11 p.m.
“I clock it, I hear it, it’s insanity,” said Doerr, who also described the effect that helicopters are having on local wildlife. “I see the birds when I do yoga in Central Park every morning. Around 9:30 a.m., you can hear three helicopters. The birds all fly up, they get angsty.”
For next month’s transportation committee meeting, CB7 members plan to invite the New York City Economic Development Corporation, a non-profit, to talk about the ongoing helicopter issue. In 2010, the NYC EDC helped a similar “Stop the Chop” campaign in DUMBO and Brooklyn Heights by negotiating with sightseeing helicopter companies.