OPINION: Here’s How the Council Will ‘Stop the Chop’ in New York

A council member from Brooklyn offers a common-sense bill to curtail helicopter havoc.

Photo: New York Convention and Visitors Bureau
Photo: New York Convention and Visitors Bureau

For far too long, New Yorkers have suffered the severe air and noise pollution produced by helicopters so that wealthy Wall Street executives can get out to the Hamptons quickly or tourists can gawk at Brooklyn Bridge Park from the air.

Lincoln Restler
Lincoln Restler

Every month, there are approximately 4,000 non-essential helicopter flights over New York City. In an average month, Zip, Liberty Helicopters, and HeliNY send out more than 1,800 tourist flights from the downtown city-owned helipad. Companies such as Blade, which offers flights to the Hamptons, operate hundreds of flights daily over New York City  — all so that the limousine class needn’t endure airport or Long Island traffic.

This non-essential activity isn’t safe: We’ve had 30 helicopter crashes since 1980, and in 2018, five tourists died when their sightseeing helicopter crashed into the East River. But, more important, it disrupts our communities and endangers our environment for the — and it should be stopped.

That’s why, along with my colleagues Council Members Amanda Farias, Gale Brewer, Shahana Hanif, Alexa Avilés, Crystal Hudson, Jennifer Gutiérrez, Christopher Marte, and Carlina Rivera, I introduced “Stop the Chop” legislation in the City Council. Our bill would ban all non-essential helicopter flights from the two city-owned helipads: the Wall Street and East 34th Street heliports, which are owned by the Economic Development Corporation. Helicopters used by the NYPD, news outlets, and hospitals would not be affected by our legislation.

As my colleague Shahana Hanif said,“Our airspace is not for sale to the highest bidder and should only be available to essential needs of our city.”

New Yorkers hate the choppers — and they haven’t been shy about saying so. They’ve made almost 60,000 helicopter-noise complaints to the city since 2010, and there has been a 700-percent jump in such complaints between 2019 and 2021. When someone is hanging in the park or sitting on their stoop, it becomes impossible to have a conversation when a tourist helicopter circles above. The calm of our parks and nature preserves constantly is pierced by the squawk of the choppers, agitating wildlife. Helicopter noise is not just severely unpleasant; studies suggest that consistent exposure can affect people’s health and cognitive development, especially of children.

Not every New Yorker is plagued by helicopter noise on a daily basis, but all of us are exposed to the environmental effects of choppers. One helicopter idling on a helipad puts the equivalent amount of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere of 40 idling cars. The 4,000 non-essential monthly flights that we are seeking to ban burn more than 50,000 gallons of fuel. Our city cannot continue contributing to the climate crisis by giving helipad access to companies transporting rich New Yorkers when they could use methods of transportation with a far lower carbon footprint.

Our bill follows the passage this month of state legislation that would create a private right of action for citizens to sue helicopter companies whose flights are unreasonably disruptive. It’s a common-sense approach the city can take in order to cut down on pollution while bettering the lives of millions of New Yorkers. We’re excited to keep pushing to “Stop the Chop!” in the Council and get it signed into law!

Lincoln Restler represents the 33rd Council district in Brooklyn, including Boerum Hill, Brooklyn Heights, Downtown Brooklyn, Dumbo, Greenpoint, Vinegar Hill and Williamsburg.