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New York City councilors seek to curtail helicopter ops

A new attempt to restrict helicopter operations in New York City—this time coming from the City Council—drew a united front of opposition from aviation groups including AOPA.

A helicopter approaches one of the Manhattan heliports where New York City lawmakers have proposed restricting helicopter operations deemed 'non-essential.' Photo by David Tulis.

Several industry organizations representing pilots and aircraft operators mobilized to oppose enactment of proposed New York City laws that would prohibit "non-essential" helicopter operations at city-owned heliports. Both bills (Int 0026-2024 and Int 0070-2024) seek to achieve what state lawmakers did not in 2022, when the same coalition of advocates rallied to stop a state law designed to restrict helicopter operations by allowing citizens to file frivolous lawsuits over noise.

State and local efforts to curtail aviation have consistently been rebuffed by courts, which recognize that a patchwork of local rules and regulations would conflict with the FAA's well-established authority to regulate aviation on the federal level. The latest case in point originated a few miles east of the city, where a lawsuit filed against the town of East Hampton that sought to halt the privatization (and possible outright closure) of the airport where many helicopters that depart New York heliports are headed. A New York appeals court recently reaffirmed that federal law and FAA regulations apply to all airports, and effectively cut short the town's attempt to impose its own rules while privatizing the airport.

While that case is likely to continue, the ultimate ruling would also apply to New York City, where the City Council Committee on Economic Development heard testimony from AOPA and other aviation advocates who made a comprehensive case against the proposed restrictions, beginning with the potential loss of jobs and economic activity. AOPA Eastern Regional Manager Sean Collins, who provided written testimony ahead of the hearing, noted that New York "is considered by many to be the business center of the world. As such, its heliports are a vital first link in a global network that connects the city to a broader state aviation system and beyond."

Collins noted that the proposed local laws appear to violate the Airport Noise and Capacity Act of 1990, the same federal law that stands in the way of East Hampton's push to halt aircraft operations based on noise. (A federal appeals court rejected the town's argument to the contrary in 2016.)

Furthermore, Collins wrote, "Enacting these types of laws would have a chilling effect on private investment in aviation industries and infrastructure across the city and state. In addition to the financial hardship that banning 'non-essential helicopter' access would cause for the three NYC heliports, New York would be labeled hostile to the aviation community and its outcrop of growing technology sectors."

New York schools and universities are meanwhile playing an essential role in building the workforce—including the aviation and technology workforce—of the future, and the city has been far more receptive to hosting electric vertical takeoff and landing demonstrations and prototypes. Collins noted that the existing heliports will play a key role in enabling that technology to mature.

"It will be vitally important for airports and aviation authorities to plan for and adapt their facilities accordingly as these important technologies will serve to reduce the traffic burden on our highways and bridges while sustaining New York's place in the global economy," Collins wrote. "These advancements will serve to make many concerns of today obsolete as we progress into the near future. Although the industry’s progress is inevitable, it will require continued investment by NYC to procure these coming advancements as efficiently as possible. Efforts to restrict access will only inhibit the NYC heliport[s'] ability to generate revenue and invest in the future."

Collins said AOPA will keep members informed, including the thousands who live in or around the city, and continue to work with the National Business Aviation Association, Vertical Aviation International, the Eastern Region Helicopter Council, National Air Transportation Association, and others to maintain general aviation access in New York, and wherever else it may come under threat.

"It's vitally important for the aviation organizations to continue to collaborate and work together to preserve GA access," Collins said.

Jim Moore
Jim Moore
Managing Editor-Digital Media
Digital Media Managing Editor Jim Moore joined AOPA in 2011 and is an instrument-rated private pilot, as well as a certificated remote pilot, who enjoys competition aerobatics and flying drones.
Topics: Advocacy, Aircraft Regulation, Airport Advocacy

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