Fear of ‘Wild West’%A0 ‘copters

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As the city prepares to move the entire tourist helicopter business directly across the East River from DUMBO and Brooklyn Heights, pressure is mounting on the industry to be better regulated and for the city to be more responsive.

The latest salvo was thrown last week by U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, whoproposed several changes to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to further regulate the skies over New York City.

“As we saw just a few weeks ago with the tragic crash over the Hudson, New York City’s airspace is not as safe as we’d like to believe,” Schumer said.

“The Hudson and East River corridors have become the Wild West of the New York City skies and without some quick action, there will surely be more tragedies,” he added.

Under Schumer’s plan, the FAA will monitor all flights, both helicopters and airplanes, below 1,000 feet and require aircraft to file flight plans.

Currently, there is no comprehensive system in place regulating flights below 1,000 feet, and helicopter pilots primarily follow VFR (Visual Flight Rules) up and down the Hudson River.

Additionally, Schumer is calling on funding and utilizing the latest air traffic technology to be used at local heliports and airports.

FAA spokesperson Jim Peters said the recent accident is still under investigation and refused comment on Schumer’s recommendations until that investigation is completed.

The helicopter issue gained steam in Brooklyn after the city’s recent decision to move the helicopter tourist industry from the West Side Heliport at West 30th to the Downtown Manhattan Heliport just across the East River from Brooklyn Heights.

The move of the tourist helicopter industry to the Downtown Manhattan Heliport stems from the Friends of the Hudson River successfully suing Air Pegasus, the operator of the West Side heliport last year.

Under the settlement, Air Pegasus agreed to limit to 12,500 helicopter flights during the 10-month period that ends March 31, 2010, and then the tourist flights will be phased out completely.

The heliport, which was the takeoff point fore the helicopter involved in the fateful crash, will still be used for corporate charters and emergency flights.

In 2008, a total of 409,325 passengers took the helicopter rides from the 34th Street, 30th Street, and Downtown Manhattan Heliports.

About 300,000 are tourist passengers and 100,000 are corporate/charter passengers.

This prompted City Councilmember David Yassky to write a letter dated Aug. 13 to the city Economic Development Corporation protesting the move.

To date, Yassky’s office has not received a response.

Yassky’s chief of staff, Tim Roberts, said the office is disappointed they have not heard back from EDC and hopes the city’s decision to shift helicopter traffic from the West Side heliport to the Downtown Manhattan heliport is not set in stone.

“Doing so will only make the current situation in Brooklyn Heights and DUMBO worse -- from both a noise and a safety standard -- and would not be acceptable,” he said.

EDC spokesperson David Lombino said the agency is finalizing a response to Yassky.

“We have been working closely with the Brooklyn Heights community on mitigating noise, we look forward to maintaining our working partnership on modifying the current flight paths,” said Lombino.

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