Federal Sequester Could Mean Noisy Summer of Helicopters Along the Hudson

Furloughs for the nation's air traffic controllers could bring more low-flying helicopter noise, union officials warn

The federal sequester will soon mean furloughs for the nation's air traffic controllers, bringing the noisy thrum of low-flying helicopters to residential parts of New York and New Jersey this summer, according to union officials.

Helicopters for sightseeing and other purposes are kept above 1,500 feet for noise abatement purposes in New York City neighborhoods like Battery Park City and the Upper West Side, as well as Jersey City across the Hudson, said Ray Adams, union president for controllers at Newark Liberty International.

But Adams, speaking for the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, predicted that tower control of those flights, some 90,000 a year, will end when the furloughs take effect and the busy summer season kicks in next month.

And that would mean the choppers would have to drop down below 1,500 feet into uncontrolled space where they don't need an air traffic controller's permission to fly around Manhattan, and to return to the base for many choppers, at a heliport in Kearny. That means many New York and New Jersey residents will be hearing more low-flying choppers.

"I'm angry there is a sequester," said Jersey City resident Deborah Siegel. "I think we should have a thoroughly funded government." 

Siegel said her neighborhood was particularly affected by noisy, low-flying helicopters, until the FAA agreed to allow them to fly higher, into space controlled by the Newark tower.

Stephen Abraham, president of the NATCA union local at JFK International, said with fewer controllers in the New York area towers, they will be hard-pressed to deal with the airlines' busy summer schedules.

Both he and Adams predicted that in addition to ending the high-flying service for helicopters, airlines will face more delays than normal, and will regularly start canceling flights.

"Reduce the number of controllers, we kinda have to reduce the number of airplanes for safety," Abraham said.

An FAA spokeswoman, Arlene Salac, referred to recent congressional testimony of Administrator Michael Huerta in which he conceded sequestration is likely to "introduce delays into the system" in the New York area.

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