Helicopter Noise Complaints Up as Commuter Flights Return



Signs warn of high winds along the West Side Greenway, near the West 30th Street heliport. Photo: Elizabeth Sander

The smell of jet fumes fills the air as residents scoot, bike and walk along the stretch of the West Side Greenway bordering the West 30th Street Heliport in Midtown. Behind the fence secured with a padlock, sits an 8,000-gallon jet fuel tank. Signs warning “caution: high wind area” surround the perimeter. When grounded, the helicopters are not very noticeable, but once airborne, parkgoers said that quickly changes.

Resident complaints about noisy helicopters increased by over 1,000% during the first ten days of September, as compared to the same time in 2020, according to city 311 data. Now, Midtown Community Board 4 is fighting to restrict the heliport to essential flights only, and ultimately, for its removal.

Emergency services and the military fly in and out of the West Side heliport when necessary, but private charter company, Blade, is its most frequent user. Overall, more than 1,000 flights took off from the heliport in August, an average of more than a dozen flights each day, reports the Hudson River Park Trust. The Trust oversees the park where the heliport is located. As commuter flights return, the Trust’s data indicates a 192% increase in flight traffic from last year. Most are commuter trips to the Hamptons, Westchester and New York City airports.

“There are other ways to get to the Hamptons,” said longtime Chelsea resident, Kit McCracken. “This is our air, our home,” she said.

McCracken is against non-essential helicopter use in New York City. She points to environmental concerns, noise pollution and socioeconomic imbalance.

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer agrees. “This relative handful of helicopter clientele can cause noise pollution impacting millions of residents,” she said.

Despite complaints about the heliport, its revenue helps maintain the park. During a June community board meeting, former Hudson River Park Trust CFO and executive vice president, Dan Kurtz, said it receives $1.7 million in annual revenue from Air Pegasus. Air Pegasus is the aviation company which operates the heliport. It also provides jobs for maintenance workers and operations staff.

“A park is the last organization that should be supporting it,” said Chelsea resident Jim Boyd. Boyd bikes up the West Side Greenway to work each day and said he is frustrated by air pollution from the heliport. “They are literally crop dusting the West Side with toxins,” he said.

Board chair Andy Rosenthal from nonprofit Stop the Chop NYNJ said the heliport also emits high levels of lead. “The number one, two and three lead emitters in Manhattan are all three heliports,” he said. The fourth, according to his research, is ConEdison.

Vacant park benches near the West 30th Street heliport. Photo: Elizabeth Sander

In June, Kurtz said the Trust is partially aligned with the community board. “Our goal remains to move the heliport and transform most of the existing heliport to park space,” he said. The Trust isn’t considering a complete removal of the heliport, though. Its plans look to build it out further West of the park, toward the Hudson River instead.

As for where things are now, “There isn’t much happening at this point,” said community board member Allen Oster. Oster said he feels there is not only a lack of city government response, but Air Pegasus is also unwilling to attend meetings or discuss the issue. “Their right to be there is enough to not have to relate to the community in any way,” he said.

Main entrance to the West 30th Street Heliport. Photo: Elizabeth Sander

Oster is hopeful that having a new governor will help. There is also a promised amendment from Assembly member Richard Gottfried and state Sen. Brad Hoylman, which seeks to deem the heliport illegal. It is set to be considered during the new legislative session in January.

As he looks ahead, Oster said he envisions a composting educational center replacing the heliport, along with more greenspace. “The purpose of the park was to establish a place for residents of the West Side to come and enjoy the river or a peaceful activity. Unfortunately, it hasn’t turned out that way,” he said.

Air Pegasus declined to comment.