Photo credit: ShellyS licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

by Arline L. Bronzaft, Ph.D., Board of Directors, GrowNYC, and Co-founder, The Quiet Coalition

An article in The City by Jose Martinez on November 15, 2020, reported helicopter noise complaints to 311 had soared in 2020 compared to 2019. Martinez noted that noise emanating from the helicopters make New Yorkers feel even worse, now that so many are “cooped up” in their homes.  Martinez quoted one New York resident as saying that the “noise just makes you crazy,” with another saying that “I have wanted to run into the street screaming.” These quotes clearly reflect the feelings of the many individuals exposed to helicopter noise in their homes, especially now with many people working out of their homes and experiencing extra stress brought on by the COVID pandemic. Thus, it was timely for the City Council Committee on Economic Development, chaired by Paul Vallone, to hold a hearing on February 17, to allow residents to comment on three proposed local laws (Int. 2026, Int. 2027, Int. 2067) being introduced that would, hopefully, curtail the noise caused by chartered helicopters.

As a researcher and a writer on the deleterious effects of noise on health, I testified at this hearing and stressed that noise goes further than driving one crazy or making one want to scream. The research on noise impacts has clearly found that exposure to intrusive noises is hazardous to mental and physical health. Furthermore, as the studies have reported, these adverse health effects have also resulted in individuals requiring medical treatment for ailments brought on by the noise; thus, noise increases medical costs. I point to these costs because the aircraft and helicopter industries often cite the costs to their businesses if they are forced to deal with the noise issue.

Speakers at this meeting included representatives from the helicopter industry, members of Stop the Chop NJ/NY ,residents who are exposed to helicopter noise, New Yorkers who underscored my statements about the adverse effects on noise on health, and Charles Komanoff who focused on the environmental costs of helicopter flights over New York City. Interestingly, Charles Komanoff urged the City Council to shelve their bills and take more immediate actions to curtail helicopter noise. Among his suggestions: all contracts permitting helicopter flights from and to-city owned facilities be terminated; City Council members work with NY and NJ Congressmembers to “require the Federal Aviation Administration to give full consideration of the adverse impacts of helicopter flights rather than rubber-stamping aviation interests;” and to commission a “comprehensive analysis of noise-annoyance and other environmental damage costs from helicopter flights.”

This is not the first time that the New York City Council considered legislation to reduce helicopter noise and safety and I await, without holding my breath, to see whether this hearing will indeed result in actual laws being passed.