After a $400 flying tour of Manhattan she called “miserable” and “cold,” Upper West Side city Councilwoman Gale Brewer said Saturday she was relieved to be back on the ground after trying one of the helicopter flights that have angered her constituents for years.
“I’ve never been so happy to be in New Jersey,” Brewer joked after she returned to the heliport in Kearny, N.J., from where FlyNYON operates chopper tours popular with tourists.
“I’ve been getting complaints about these things for 15 years, and you can see why,” said Brewer. “They’re flying constantly.”
Brewer called for an end to the noisy helicopter tours when she was Manhattan borough president and during a previous stint as a City Council member representing the Upper West Side.
Her gripes are shared by thousands of New Yorkers, who filed 21,620 complaints about helicopter noise to 311 in 2021, more than double the 10,359 filed in 2020.
And 2020′s figure was triple the 3,332 chopper noise complaints filed in 2019, city data show. One third of the complaints filed last year were from the Upper West Side.
Bug-eyed Instagrammers and TikTokers — from out of town — seem to be the main customers for the ride.
“They’re all tourists,” Brewer said. “I yelled out to the people with me, ‘Is anyone here from New York?’ Nobody. Just two tourists from Washington state who said they didn’t like the city’s COVID regulations.”
FlyNYON offers “doors off” rides over Central Park, allowing tourists to snap photos and videos of their feet dangling over the city.
Brewer said her $400 doors-off ride was uncomfortably cold, and took her on a route above Central Park, Governors Island, the Statue of Liberty and Brooklyn Bridge Park before circling back to New Jersey.
FlyNYON bills itself as the largest helicopter tour company in New York. One of its doors-off trips it marketed ended in tragedy when it crashed in the East River in 2018, killing five passengers.
The National Transportation Safety Board later found the helicopter’s passengers were strapped in with harnesses that were too difficult to release. The harnesses kept the passengers stuck in the chopper five to eight feet beneath the water as they drowned, investigators found.
Months later, New York officials banned doors-off helicopter flights from operating out of the city’s heliports. FlyNYON gets around the restriction by taking off and landing in New Jersey.
Brewer called for New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy to crack down on FlyNYON’s operation — and said Congress should quickly pass legislation to ban most helicopter flights over Manhattan.
New York U.S. House members Carolyn Maloney, Jerry Nadler and Nydia Velazquez, all Democrats, last year re-introduced the Helicopter Safety Act, which would institute such a ban, but it has not passed.
Brewer said she’d rather see tourists spend hundreds of dollars in the city than schlep out to New Jersey for a quick, disruptive thrill.
“Tourists should stay in New York City, enjoy our streets our restaurants our tourist attractions. If you want to see the Statue of Liberty, just go out and take the boat,” said Brewer. “It makes it so noisy for people in the parks trying to play a ball game or enjoy a book.”
A FlyNYON representative did not immediately respond to a request for comment.