Copter, copters everywhere. Photo: Stephanie Keith/Getty Images Earlier this month, Uber made a feature called “Copter” available to all of its users in New York City. Now, for a few hundred dollars, anyone with the Uber app can splurge on a quick, relatively glamorous airborne trip to Kennedy airport. Blade has sold comparative chopper transfers…
Earlier this month, Uber made a feature called “Copter” available to all of its users in New York City. Now, for a few hundred dollars, anyone with the Uber app can splurge on a quick, relatively glamorous airborne trip to Kennedy airport. Blade has sold comparative chopper transfers for years, but if Uber’s service takes off, New Yorkers can expect the already-buzzy skies — Manhattan heliports alone recorded nearly 50,000 flights in 2018 — to grow ever more crowded.
That unappealing prospect highlights a surprising and disturbing fact: A significant portion of helicopter traffic above the most densely populated urban area in the United States isn’t monitored, and there’s little New York can do about it.
Five drowned in the East River following the crash of a FlyNyon flight in March of 2018, and in June, a lost pilot bound for Linden, New Jersey, was killed when his helicopter crashed into a 51-story office tower in Midtown. The problem goes back even farther: After a grisly 1977 crash atop the Pan Am Building — now MetLife — killed five, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) banned rooftop helipads. Wall Street Journalreported in September. The hovering birds have menaced Shakespeare in the Park, disturbed moments of solace on the Hudson, and made midtown even more cacophonous, creating a soundscape similar to a war zone. among the Democrats who will decide on bringing formal impeachment charges against Donald Trump. But even as he is occupied by matters of international import, he hasn’t forgotten about the noisy nuisances plaguing his constituents. who presented himself as a man of the people, appeared to offer an opportunity to rid Manhattan of copters, or at least to limit their activity. introduced the Improving Helicopter Safety Act of 2019, which would bar nonessential helicopter traffic over Manhattan. But it’s an uphill battle.
After the fatal accident in June, de Blasio appeared poised to act. “I think we need a full ban on any helicopters going over Manhattan itself … for any kind of civilian traffic, it should not go over Manhattan in any way, shape, or form,” he said, during a June appearance on WNYC’s Ask the Mayor. “[But] remember,” he continued, “a lot of what happens with helicopters is federal jurisdiction, federal oversight.”
Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFR) over Manhattan, as it has for the airspace over Disneyland and Disneyworld since 2014, and as it does during major events, such as the United Nations General Assembly.
That wouldn’t in and of itself bar choppers, since certain types of service, including emergency and public safety — along with news-gathering, which is a First Amendment activity — are protected. However, these activities represent a fraction of helicopter traffic, the majority of which comprise either sightseeing or charter service, like Blade and now Uber.
regulations limit operators to designated routes, with some exceptions. And cuts to the number of flights allowed to take off and land recently pushed one rent-a-chopper business into bankruptcy. But there’s a giant loophole: New York’s rules have no impact on New Jersey operators, who operate in a Wild West of regulations. It’s there that the private company FlyNyon, which caters to the most bothersome species of Instagram tourism, is based. Using Flightradar24, one can observe FlyNyon choppers in action — the logo is readily visible on helicopters that loop over Central Park, hover near the Empire State Building, and harass Lower Manhattan. FlyNyon continues to operate “doors off” flights, during which passengers are encouraged to dangle their feet above the city for a #shoeselfie. Although the FAA banned such flights in 2018, FlyNyon continues to flout the restriction.
Nadler’s office estimates that FlyNyon operates approximately 70 flights over Manhattan, seven days and nights each week. But since the FAA doesn’t monitor this traffic, and FlyNyon is an indirect carrier that purchases flight time from FAA-licensed carriers, which actually own and operate the helicopters in question, an exact number of flights per day is approximate.
Disregard for city regulation apparently does not prevent the company from maintaining an office in the West Village. Tours begin on the ground in Manhattan, and customers are subsequently ferried to New Jersey, via Uber, where flights depart from Linden, a non-towered airport.
FlyNyon fits that description as well. Although the organization has an opaque corporate structure, it’s run by Patrick Day Sr., who was director of operations at Liberty Helicopters until as recently as 2018, and Patrick Day Jr., who is CEO of parent company NYON.
It’s not only that New York City is all but powerless to regulate its own airspace, but that New Yorkers are at the mercy of a niche but powerful industry that isn’t adequately monitored by the federal agency responsible for it. And if the helicopter cabal so chose, it could almost certainly move its operations across state lines to New Jersey, navigating entirely around any city action in the process and continuing business as usual.
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The Unfriendly Skies Above New York City