Lawmakers Threaten to End Tourist Helicopter Industry with Proposed Bill

February 18, 2015 | Politics, Transportation
Prieto plans to introduce a bill to stop helicopters from landing in NJ, which is where many are housed.

By David Cruz

Look up in the sky, it’s a bird, yes, and a plane, too. But every three minutes or so this morning, it’s been a helicopter. One after the other. And while here — over the Hudson River — you might just hear the helicopters as part of the aural landscape of urban life, Brian Wagner’s experience in his brownstone apartment in Hoboken is dramatically different.

“My building, in a brownstone, four levels, does shake,” he said. “Yes, my windows rattle. Yes, I have two dogs and one goes hiding in the bathroom every time because she thinks it’s thunder. I work from home, like today, they’ve been going mad since 9 a.m., so I sit on conference calls on mute.”

Wagner has been organizing residents and urging elected officials to take action to curb the flights for two years now. Congressman Albio Sires and Sen. Bob Menendez met with FAA officials and got nowhere, they said. The problem of a helicopter tourist industry and the folks who say they’re being driven to distraction by it, is something the state needs to handle, they were told.

“For too long the state Department of Transportation has tried to shrug it off, pass the buck and claim, ‘It’s not my problem.’ But they’re absolutely wrong,” said Menendez. “The state of New Jersey is the one that gives permits to be able to land at those sites.”

Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto said today he’ll introduce a bill that will direct the state DOT to stop issuing permits for any helicopters to land in New Jersey, which is where a lot of these helicopters get put up at night. The effect on the industry would be immediate. With no landing options in New Jersey, they would would have to scramble for sites in New York, where Congressman Jerrold Nadler says he’s trying to secure similar restrictions, a move which could put an end to the industry.

“We requested that the city of New York and the New York City Economic Development Corporation institute a ban of all tourist helicopters using the downtown heliport,” he said.

A spokesman for the tourist helicopter industry released a statement today: “This legislation would cost New Jersey and New York hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars in economic activity, and it will needlessly ban an industry that has been and will continue to be a responsible partner in safeguarding the public.”

Wagner was unmoved. “The actual pilots and direct mechanics? I’m sorry. That’s a small group,” he said. “There is progress that needs to be made. Maybe there’s things that can be done to help them. There is commuter. There are other segments of their industry that perhaps they could participate within.”

Prieto’s bill would seem to have a good chance of making it through a Democratically-controlled Legislature. But seeing as how its essential goal is the elimination of an entire industry, it might have a difficult time getting past a pro-business governor’s veto pen.