Above the Hudson River, between the skyscrapers of Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty in the distance, it is an incessant ballet: helicopters filled with tourists amazed by the sight or wealthy customers fly noisily over New York, in despair exasperated or disillusioned residents.
“With the biggest helicopters, my apartment vibrates”, complains Melissa Elstein, one of the leaders of Stop the Chop NY/NJ (New York/New Jersey), an association which wants to ban non-essential flights, such as flights tourists or wealthy clients.
“It’s an economic model that shouldn’t exist,” she told AFP.
“They pollute the air, have a negative impact on health,” she adds, before attacking millionaires who “want to get to the airport a little faster, or for their weekends and holidays in the Hamptons”, the strip of land east of Long Island known for its beautiful beaches and grandiose villas.
The controversy has existed for years and measures to regulate the traffic have already been taken. But between 2020, when the pandemic reduced flights, to 2021, complaints about helicopter noise to the town hall’s 311 hotline rose from 10,359 to 25,821. The majority (21,620) came from the borough of Manhattan.
The latest measure, the New York State legislature earlier this month passed a law, known as “Stop The Chop”, paving the way for legal action for operators generating “sustained excessive noise”. But it must still be promulgated by the governor of the state, the democrat Kathy Hochul.
For the president of Stop the Chop NY/NJ, Andy Rosenthal, it would be “a first step”, “but not what we hoped for”. “The fight continues,” he said.
– “New York experience” –
“Many New Yorkers can no longer comfortably work from home, walk along the river or nap their children because of the incessant noise and vibration from non-essential helicopters,” said a statement to the AFP, Democratic Senator Brad Hoylman, author of the recent law.
Helicopter noise is not only annoying, it is also “detrimental to our health and our environment”, he adds, saying that a helicopter produces 43 times more CO2 per hour than a conventional car. .
New York has three heliports in operation: one at 30th Street and the Hudson River — only separated from the roadway and its bike path by a metal fence –, one at 34th street and the East River and another in Lower Manhattan’s Financial District.
At Battery Park, at the southwest end of Manhattan with the Statue of Liberty in the distance, the sky is constantly crossed by planes and helicopters.
Most residents have become accustomed to the abnormal decibel level of the area, already affected by heavy road traffic and ferries that dock and depart from the nearby port.
For Mark Roberge, it is a “permanent background noise” which is now “part of the New York experience”.
“However, only essential flights should be allowed,” he told AFP. “Tourist helicopters, which fly at low altitude, are dangerous and should go much further.”
A 2016 agreement between New York City Hall and one of the operators reduced the number of tourist flights from 60,000 to 30,000 a year and confined them to the airspace of the rivers surrounding Manhattan, with mandatory rest on Sundays.
But with a minimum price of around $200 for a 15-20 minute flight, the experience remains attractive to tourists.
The companies contacted did not respond to AFP.