Not Everyone Is Cheering Limits on Helicopter Tours

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A helicopter taking off at the Downtown Manhattan Heliport. The city has come to an agreement to reduce the number of tourist rides by 50 percent in 2017.

The deal between the de Blasio Administration and the helicopter tours to reduce flights by 50 percent by January is a victory for critics of noise pollution. It's also an ominous sign for the sightseeing companies involved. They're still trying to figure out how many job will be lost.

"Fifty-percent revenue loss for any business is devastating," said Sam Goldstein, the deputy director of the Helicopter Tourism and Jobs Council, which represents a coalition of helicopter operators in New York and New Jersey.

Goldstein said the alternative — an all-out ban on all helicopter tours which the City Council proposed in November — would be even worse. The industry employs more than 250 people and generates $50 million a year for the city.

"Companies are going to have to make decisions and we are hoping to preserve as many of the jobs as possible," he said.

Under the agreement, the Downtown Manhattan Heliport, the only one in the city where sightseeing tours can operate, must submit a written report on the number of flights each month to the New York Economic Development Corporation. The industry also agreed to be subject to air quality monitoring around the heliport.

The helicopter industry extends beyond the pilots. For four years, Sh'shonda Smith, 37, of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn has been working on commission selling tour tickets outside of the heliport. She's worried fewer rides will mean even more competition for customers.

"I love my job, it's working for me, it's helping me feed my family, I don't have to beg, I don't have to be wondering how I'm going to make it," she said.

The single mother of two sons said the drop in income will make it even harder to pay college tuition for her oldest son who's applying to colleges now.

Other New Yorkers who've complained about the noise for years, like Upper West Side resident Markie Hancock, welcomed the cut helicopter tours. She said the droning of propellers overhead seems constant.

"All of a sudden you hear thunderous helicopter noise and you're sure it's landing on perhaps the building right next to you it sounds that close and that loud," she said.

Her bedroom faces the Hudson River — one of the waterway routes that tourist helicopters must follow. She said the noise has increased in recent years as the number of helicopter trips overall has climbed.

"You think, 'Oh no did something bad happen? Was there an accident?' And everyone's a little jumpy now when you hear loud noises close by, and you think 'Oh did something explode?'"

The deal with the city to limit sightseeing tours does not apply to the many other kinds of helicopters that fly over the city — the NYPD, the media, the military, as well as flights to the airports and the Hamptons. Those helicopters may continue to be a source of noise and aggravation for New Yorkers seeking quieter skies.