Congressman Albio Sires (D–8th Dist.) said on Monday that he is planning to meet with officials from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in Washington in an effort to have tourist helicopters from New York City banned on the Jersey side of the Hudson River. He held a press conference in Hoboken on Monday that was attended by the mayors of Hoboken, Weehawken, North Bergen, West New York, Guttenberg, and several other towns.
Sires, a member of the House of Representatives’ committee on transportation and infrastructure, said that in addition to meeting with the FAA to discuss banning the helicopters, he will work with his colleagues in the House to introduce legislation that will have the same effect.
“The practice of having helicopters fly at lower altitudes creates a constant noise nuisance and safety issues for those in New Jersey living along the river,” he said.
The issue has intensified recently, as helicopter density in the Hudson County skies has increased since tourist helicopters were banned on the East River last year.
Sires said that a helicopter crash in the Hudson River on a recent Sunday was only the latest in a string of events that has raised concerns over the noise and safety issues associated with the helicopter tourism business.
“It’s not a quiet place, and we realize that and we’re used to it. But lately it’s sounded like a warzone.” – Mayor Dawn Zimmer
Mayors at the event included Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer, North Bergen Mayor and State Sen. Nicholas Sacco (D–32nd Dist.), Mayor Gerald Drasheff of Guttenberg, Mayor Felix Roque of West New York, and Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner.
“We already deal with the Coast Guard and we already deal with Medivac helicopters, and we understand that,” Sires said. “Why should our residents bear the brunt of these helicopters just because people want to see the New York City skyline?”
Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Union City and State Sen. Brian Stack, and Bayonne Mayor Mark Smith were not present, but offered their support in statements.
“The number one priority must be safety, for those on the ground as well as for pilots and anyone who boards a tourist helicopter to see the sights along the Hudson River,” said Menendez. “Given the amount of tourist helicopter traffic over the Hudson, an FAA restriction of those flights over the New Jersey side makes sense.”
Council members and commissioners from various Hudson County towns attended the press conference as well, including Hoboken 2nd Ward Councilwoman Beth Mason, who has been increasing awareness on the issue since some Hoboken residents raised concerns in recent months.
“This is an issue that’s actually very personal to me,” she said prior to the press conference. “I’ve worked with airlines and it’s very easy to see why people would be upset by this, and it is a problem.”
Brian Wagner, a Hoboken resident who has been the public voice of discontent over the helicopters, said the best views of the skyline are from the ground.
“People should come over here and see our parks and rent a bike and ride the waterfront,” he said. “We’ve got great views, but they’re also views we want to enjoy on Saturdays with our families.”
Mayor Zimmer said, “We live in Hudson County, and it’s not a quiet place, and we realize that and we’re used to it. But lately it’s sounded like a war zone. It’s excessive, unreasonable and unfair.”
“This is very simply a matter of protecting both public safety and the quality of life of residents living off the river,” said Sacco, who recalled a time when a helicopter crashed on Route 495 in North Bergen.
“Whether we’re talking about sightseeing flights over the Hudson or executive charters over Bayonne, our citizens deserve to be safe and sound in their own homes,” said Bayonne Mayor Mark Smith in a statement.
Mayor Brian Stack has also been dealing with the FAA recently, and said in a statement that he had written to them “conveying concern with low-flying helicopters that cause a disturbance and potential hazard.”
He added, “The recent crash demonstrates that stricter guidelines are needed in the immediate future and that the concerns of local residents were warranted.”
One more noticeable absence from the press conference was newly-elected Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop. Recently, a new tourist helicopter pad was built in downtown Jersey City, possibly intensifying the traffic.
Fulop said Thursday that he agreed with the other mayors about the copters, but was unable to attend the press conference due to time conflicts.
Dean DeChiaro may be reached at email@example.com