September 26, 2013
Tension in the air, as Hudson residents and officials battle helicopter tour industry

Steve Strunsky/The Star-Ledger By Steve Strunsky/The Star-Ledger
on September 26, 2013 at 7:00 AM, updated September 26, 2013 at 7:06 AM

HOBOKEN — There’s tension in the air above Hudson County.
A day after two of the state’s federal lawmakers wrote to the FAA complaining of what they say is increasing tour helicopter traffic and noise over the county, the region’s main industry group strongly rejected the assertions, citing federal data to insist that traffic has gone down, not up.

"To be clear," Jeff Smith, a spokesman for the Eastern Region Helicopter Council, said in a statement, "there has been no significant growth in the air tour market over the last decade."

"Any suggestion otherwise is simply not true," Smith added. "In fact, as recently as 2010, ERHC agreed to reduce the number of NYC tour routes flown from six to two to reduce potential noise effects on various communities."

On Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez and Rep. Albio Sires (D-8th District), both Hudson County residents and former mayors, sent a joint letter to the Federal Aviation Administration expressing concern about what they said was "a substantial increase in helicopter traffic from 2012 to 2013."

Sires began raising the issue earlier this summer following residents’ complaints of a noticeable increase in what had always been heavy helicopter traffic. The FAA agreed to hold a public meeting on the issue at Teterboro Airport on Aug. 27, when the agency vowed to produce a plan addressing the situation within a month.

In Tuesday’s letter, addressed to FAA regional administrator Carmine Gallo, Menendez and Sires said they "have been very concerned about the numerous low-flying tourist helicopters that are causing the serious public nuisance over communities on the New Jersey side of the Hudson River," and reminded Gallo of the FAA’s pledge to address the situation.

Asked on Tuesday for data demonstrating an increase in traffic, Menendez’s office provided figures that it said had been supplied by the FAA, based on NASA satellite imagery, not on FAA records.
As it turned out, the figures on their own suggest that the traffic and noise situation had improved, not worsened, when comparing a three-month period from April through June of 2012 to the same period in 2013. For example, while the number of flights rose from 1,783 to 2,176 for altitudes between 500 feet and 1,000 feet, the number of flights at lower, more audible altitudes, between 0 feet and 500 feet, actually fell dramatically, from 1,376 to 715.

The FAA declined comment Wednesday.

Hudson residents and the lawmakers say one problem is that the FAA does not track tour helicopter traffic. Residents also allege that tour helicopters are not following proscribed flight paths over the Hudson River, and instead are flying over land, sometimes dizzyingly close to residences.

"People say they’re seeing into the cockpit," said Brian Wagner of Hoboken, a founder of Stop NYC Tourist Helicopters, who was frustrated by what he claims is the FAA’s failure to address the problem. "Why can’t they just listen to the people and do something to mitigate the situation?"
 
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