In a strongly worded rebuttal issued Monday, the Helicopter Association International (HAI) slammed a congressional bill announced Saturday that would effectively ban most private and commercial helicopter traffic over New York City. The group called the bill “an attempt to completely dismantle a thriving industry” and further characterized it as having a chilling effect on development of one of the potentially largest urban air mobility (UAM) markets in the world.
“With an industry advancing in terms of both urban mobility and unmanned aircraft, these politicians are looking back, not forward,” said HAI president Matt Zuccaro, a veteran NYC helicopter pilot and a former aviation executive for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. “There is no one more focused on safety than the helicopter pilots and operators themselves,” Zuccaro said. “These politicians’ draconian solution to the perceived threat of helicopters is to put an industry out of business.”
HAI attacked the “Improving Helicopter Safety Act of 2019” as having “no positive effect on aviation safety over New York City” and a threat to the “viability” of the helicopter industry there. The association went further, accusing the bill’s primary sponsors—New York City Democratic U.S. Reps. Carolyn Maloney, Jerry Nadler, and Nydia Velazquez—of promulgating falsehoods and selectively manipulating accident data to create a rationale for the legislation. It said the bill’s sponsors used nearly 40 years of accident data to inflate safety claims and falsely state that the FAA “does not have any regulations, policies or procedures to account for New York City’s uniquely crowded airspace.”
The association pointed out that the FAA updates helicopter route charts in select markets, including New York City, every 56 days or as needed and that they provide guidance on “standard routes, specific altitude limitations when appropriate, standard frequencies, and mandatory reporting points.” HAI also said the lawmakers ignored the protections offered by established altitude ranges in New York Class B airspace, including the Hudson River and East River Exclusion Special Flight Rules Area (SFRA). It also said they disregarded special practices adopted by New York helitour operators, including “established flight routes that standardize pending flight paths, altitudes flown, and frequencies used by all aircraft” that minimize the need for interaction with air traffic controllers.
Despite two high-profile NYC helicopter crashes that killed six over the last year, HAI noted that helicopter traffic in the city is far safer than ground transportation there, which accounted for more than 60,000 injuries and 203 fatalities in 2018. The association called for increased community dialogue, including reconstitution of the NYC helicopter task force, to “work in good faith to address the concerns of all stakeholders at the table.”