New York is helicopter heaven

helicoptergreen.jpg
[our own helicopter makes no noise - oh, and it carries no bombs]




Late one night early last week I posted a brief mention that the next day I would be going to a meeting about New York's helicopter pestilence, so I owe this space at least some kind of report.

Helicopters love New York, even if New Yorkers don't love helicopters.

On December 9 I said that my concern was "our neighborhood's regular assault by low-flying and low-hovering helicopters." I had been invited by my very-excellent-indeed City Council member Chris Quinn to join her legislative aide Danielle DeCerbo at what I discovered was a regular meeting of what was called the "Manhattan Helicopter Task Force." I was surprised, and I suppose disappointed, to find that the group was not a recent creation, but was rather a bit long in the tooth. I was not surprised however to find that the problem was not limited to Chelsea, but that it plagued the entire borough and likely the whole city.

Does any of this mean that we can expect to get relief?

My short answer is no, and I should drop the discussion there. I think the situation is absolutely hopeless, although my pessimism may not be shared by everyone working on the problem. There were 30 people around a table in the office of the Manhattan Borough President, even if only some of them could be described as complainants. The rest were from offices of elected officials or were people who work in and for helicopter aviation. I believe I was the only just-plain-old-citizen present.

The longer answer to the question of relief would describe the obstacles I believe are insurmountable in today's political and economic world. Those obstacles include the facts that New York has an unworkable noise code, that New York City long ago decided on its own that anything to do with any aircraft over its territory was entirely a federal responsibility, that ordinary tour companies are still permitted to contract for Manhattan overflights and will continue to be able to do so even when they can't take off from Manhattan heliports, that there are dozens of commercial "news" company helicopters whose patrol area is New York, that corporate demand for the prestige and convenience which helicopters can offer in a city which refuses to deal with its increasingly crippling automobile traffic is growing and is likely to explode, that the police are more and more attracted to sexy helicopter patrols, that any helicopters or other planes operating below 2000 feet are not in "controlled airspace" [that regulated by FAA traffic controllers at area airports] and are therefore free to use their own judgment in deciding what flying height, even down to rooftop or ground level, is safe or appropriate, that only Congress can regulate altitude rules in New York City or anywhere else, and finally and most devastating, that at any one time there are between 40 and 50 helicopters in the immediate New York area whose dedicated role is "security," making them unanswerable to any reponsible party. Those "security" craft are incidently totally unidentifiable and cannot be traced by anyone, or by any agency which is not the Department of Homeland Security in Washington.

The moderator of the meeting, Rick Muller, Environmental/Transportation Policy Analyst in C. Virginia Fields's office, may only have been reflecting the sentiments of most Americans when he commented sadly, in the context of statements suggesting that security trumps all, "Post 9/11 it's a diffferent world." But what he is really describing is the death of representative government, since agencies not responsible to either the electing or the elected can initiate or veto every action the nation takes, at any level of government and regardless of scale. In the end we will be neither free nor secure. It is up to a free people to decide how much and what kind of security it will contract for; the final decision cannot be left to the salesman, even if he's wearing a uniform.

If 40 or 50 helicopters is what gives us security, an insurgency in Iraq should not be possible today.


FOOTNOTE: Since September 11 there is one U.S. city not burdened in the least by low-flying aircraft, other than those assigned to "security," and that city is Washington, D.C. "Washington is [now always, totally] shut down," announced the FAA representative at the meeting in the Municipal Building on Tuesday. He added that New York airspace is also totally shut down whenever the President is here.


[the helicopter was found at Wallspace, in "The Holiday Shopping Show II," where there are more, as well as many other wonderful inexpensive artist works: Koji Shimizu, Fluffy Green 2003, satin with polyester stuffing, ed. 7/10]