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Helicopter Tours Get Chopped


Normally, tourists hoping to get an ariel view of the city skyline can catch a ride on a helicopter tour. But starting this weekend, the choppers will be barred from flying on Sundays. It’s part of deal the city struck with tour operators to cut flights in half by next year. And while the city says it’s a compromise between local residents and business, Adrian Ma explains why no party involved is buzzing with enthusiasm over the deal.

MA 1: Looking out the window of Karen McDermott’s 20th floor apartment in Battery Park City, you can see for miles and miles.

MA:Can you describe what we’re looking at here?

McDERMOTT: We’re looking at the Hudson River. We’re looking at some nice quiet ferries. And that we’re looking up at some really loud helicopters.

(SOUND: Helicopter buzzing)

MA: After taking off from a heliport at the Southern tip of Manhattan, the choppers ferry tourists up and down the Hudson for an Instagramable view of the city. Every few minutes, another one buzzes by.

(SOUND: Helicopter buzzing)

MA: Even though McDermott grew up near LaGuardia Airport, and was used to the sound of planes, she says the helicopters are different…

MCDERMOTT: You’re feeling it in your chest. You actually physically feel them, you don’t just hear them.

MA: Standing in the her living room, even with the windows closed, I could feel a low vibration with each passing helicopter. Before moving here few months ago, McDermott says she lived next to the West Side Highway.

MCDERMOTT: And I never could have imagined that moving away from the highway and facing the water would be louder than the highway going onto the Battery tunnel. So as high as I put my music or if I put on the TV, it doesn’t matter. I’ve literally gone into the bathtub and gone under the water to get away from them. And I can hear them, under the water.

MA: The goal of the new agreement is to help reduce some of the noise in the neighborhood. But even with half as many flights, and Sundays off, Battery Park residents like McDermott, will see — or more importantly hear — some 30,000 helicopter flights buzz by their windows in the next year. That’s about one helicopter every 10 minutes. And all that noise can have real health effects. Richard Neitzel teaches environmental science at the University of Michigan, where he studies the effect of environmental noise on human health. He says, we’ve known for a long time that excessive noise can hurt your hearing, but …

NEITZEL: … that may just be the tip of the iceberg in terms of the impact of noise on the human body.

MA: Neitzel says even being exposed to lower levels of noise for a prolonged period …

NEITZEL: Basically activates this fight or flight response and keeps you in a constantly stressed state. And that can lead to cardiovascular disease, to hypertension, high blood pressure. It’s also increasingly being associated with things like depression and mental health issues.

GOLDSTEIN: I sympathize, as the industry sympathizes, which is why we continuously try to make adjustments. But at some point, we’re not going to be the scapegoat for every bit of sound that someone hears.

MA: Sam Goldstein works for the Helicopter Tourism and Jobs Council, and he says that helicopter tourism has been a net positive for the city.

GOLDSTEIN: People seeking a helicopter tour of New York City, this a bucket item that they’re really excited to do, and therefore it’s going to be one of the first things they arrange.

MA: And while the city hasn’t given precise figures on the economic impact of the helicopter tourism, Goldstein is certain the flight reduction will mean a loss of tourism dollars. And there’s another thing. He says the helicopter tour operators employ about 250 pilots, mechanics, and sales staff. And as operators see their business chopped in half, they may also have to cut jobs.

GOLDSTEIN: It’s going to be tough. But this is something that we did because we believe that this agreement will ensure that there continue to be tours in New York City.

(SOUND: Heliport noise)

MA: That’s good news for John Culpepper, who is on vacation from Dallas, Texas. I meet him and his wife as they’re walking out of the downtown heliport.

MA: What’d you think?

CULPEPPER: It was cool.

MA 10: When I tell him the tours will eventually be reduced by half because some residents have been complaining, he says …

CULPEPPER: I’d hate to see it. I’d hate to see’em lose it.

MA: Even though there are some people going crazy on the West Side?

CULPEPPER: They need to get a life. They have to understand where you are, where you live, and what’s here. This is not for them, this is for the world.

MA 11: For McDermott and other anti-chopper activists, that’s precisely the problem. Adrian Ma, Columbia Radio News.

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