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Queens Chronicle

Buzzing Howard Beach from above

New JFK commuter flights fuel sharp spike in helicopter traffic

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Posted: Thursday, July 11, 2019 10:30 am

The late newspaper columnist Jimmy Breslin actually invented a name for the overhead airplane noise that was so loud people had to stop talking until it passed.

He called it the “Howard Beach pause.”

In recent weeks, there is a new conversation killer in the skies above Howard Beach — helicopters carrying commuters from Manhattan to JFK International Airport.

Since May, residents of the neighborhood say, what used to be a few, low-flying copters a day have turned into a procession of five or six per hour, swooping over homes heading for the airport.

“The planes went away and the copters came to take their place,” said Peter McMahon, a contractor who lives in Old Howard Beach.

“The amount of noise coming from these copters is absurd.”

The source of the heavy new traffic appears to be several new commuter helicopter services that launched in the last three months, offering to ferry passengers from Manhattan to JFK for just $200.

According to the websites for the new services, the helicopter ride takes only eight minutes, compared to an hour or more via taxi.

“Was in my yard on the 4th and saw more than a dozen in the course of mid-afternoon until dusk,” Howard Beach residents Chris Wierzbicki said in an email to the Chronicle, which included photos of helicopters buzzing overhead.

“Some were much lower, larger and faster than others.”

State Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach) said complaints about helicopter traffic began to trickle into his office in early summer.

“My concern is that unregulated air traffic will end up like unregulated TLC service,” he said. “We started to regulate [ride-sharing services such as Uber] way too late.”

Unlike airplanes flying over the city, which must adhere to certain routes, the New York Helicopter Chart, a network of elective helicopter routes, allows helicopters to operate over the city without talking to air traffic control, according to a spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration, which administers the control towers at JFK and LaGuardia Airport.

“Helicopters voluntarily fly these routes [but] they do not have to fly these routes,” the spokesman said.

In years past, helicopter traffic in and out of JFK chose to fly over the nearby Belt Parkway to avoid disturbing neighborhoods.

But traffic this summer has jumped sharply, according to the FAA.

Apparently, the ride-sharing business model behind Uber and Lyft is starting to take hold in the helicopter business.

Blade was the first to offer crowd-sourcing rides to the airport for $195 a seat.

Before then, commuters had to rent a helicopter by the hour to make the trip.

Gotham Air followed shortly after, offering first-time commuters a ride for $100.

Earlier this month, Uber began offering its best customers helicopter service to the airports for $200. The service will shortly be expanded and rebranded as Uber Elevated, the company said.

Welcome to the discussion.