The National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) joined five other aviation associations recently in opposition to two New York City bills that would severely restrict helicopter operations in the city and create additional paperwork requirements. The March 9 letter to Peter Vallone, chairman of the New York City Committee on Economic Development, was co-signed by representatives of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), Helicopter Association International (HAI), the Eastern Region Helicopter Council (ERHC), the National Air Transportation Association (NATA) and General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA).
The group of six associations stated opposition to Bill No. 2026, which would prohibit operations at city heliports by most charter (Part 135) operations if the helicopters are certified under FAA Stage 1 or Stage 2 noise standards. This highly-restrictive bill would affect as many as 80 percent of NYC helicopter operations based on pre-COVID numbers, according to Tom McCormick, a Part 91 helicopter pilot and chairman of the ERHC.
The coalition also expressed opposition to Bill No. 2067, which would require the operators of the city’s heliports to collect documentation from every helicopter that takes off or lands at its facility. Operators would be required to present their airworthiness certificate, registration, inspection report, the route flown to arrive at the landing site and the planned route of departure. The coalition noted that FAA already regulates helicopter operations and expressly prohibits municipalities from burdening them with documentation or other requirements that could be considered duplicative of federal standards.
“The undersigned associations and industry members believe the restrictions on helicopter operations at the City’s heliports proposed by Bills No. 2026 and No. 2067 would be devastating to New York City’s economy overall, as well as the economic viability of the heliports and the helicopter industry as a whole,” the letter read. “It is also important to note that the helicopter industry is investing billions of dollars into technologies that will dramatically reduce noise levels and drastically reduce the carbon footprint. The industry is fueling research and development needed for sustainable solutions across a broad spectrum of applications.”
In a hearing on the bills held February 17, testimony presented by Jol Silversmith of KMA Zuckert LLC on behalf of ERHC questioned the legal implications of the bills. That testimony said, “Aviation, including helicopters, is a federally-regulated industry. Congress, the courts, and the FAA deliberately have left little room for state or municipal regulation, and public airports (including heliports) generally must accommodate all types of operations. Silversmith quoted a Supreme Court ruling in City of Burbank v. Lockheed Air Terminal Inc., 411 U.S. 624 (1973), which said “Federal control is intensive and exclusive. Planes do not wander about in the sky like vagrant clouds. They move only by federal permission, subject to federal inspection, in the hands of federally certified personnel, and under an intricate system of federal commands. The moment a ship taxis onto a runway it is caught up in an elaborate and detailed system of controls.”
NBAA reported that McCormick also explained a flaw in the bill, saying that very few helicopters are certified under Stage 3 noise levels, however, several Stage 2-rated helicopters flying today are just as quiet, and could meet Stage 3 noise-certification requirements. “I look forward to working with the council and industry to bring cleaner, quieter aircraft to the market. New York has supported its heliports since 1956, and I want to see NYC maintain its economic advantage. You can’t do that without aviation,” McCormick said.
In the letter to New York’s Committee on Economic Development, the coalition also expressed support for Bill No. 2027, which would require a study on the safety and feasibility of replacing the City’s helicopter fleet with electric powered rotorcraft or eVTOLs.
Noise complaints because of helicopter activities in NYC are submitted by phone to 311, the City’s 24-hour customer service system. In the abstract of Bill No. 2027, the City said that through mid-November 2020, there had been 7,758 helicopter-related noise complaints since the start of the year, over 4,400 more than the total number of helicopter noise complaints in 2019. The increase in noise complaints were attributed in part to increased awareness of helicopter noise from people working from home during the pandemic, and the NYPD’s use of helicopters to monitor Black Lives Matter and anti-police brutality protests over the summer.