Federal Appeals Court Upholds New York City Air Tour Ban

News release contributed by the Helicopter Noise Coalition of New York City (contact information below)

(back to Aviation Noise)

The U.S. Court of Appeals recently handed the city a landmark victory in upholding the city's right to ban sightseeing flights from a seaplane base on city-owned waterfront property in order to reduce noise impacts on the community. The May 22, 2001 decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals Second Circuit (SeaAir v. City of New York) upheld the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of NY decision of August 21, 2000.

These decisions found that the city's tour seaplane ban is not preempted by federal regulation of interstate transportation (Airline Deregulation Act of 1994), as sightseeing flights are not transportation. The court also ruled that the city's policy does not violate the due process and equal protection clauses of the Constitution, as the policy is not arbitrary, discriminatory or unreasonable. The appellate decision states that the city's policy is also upheld by the proprietor exception established in the Second Circuit 1998 ruling "National Helicopter v. City of New York." This decision allowed the city of New York, as landlord of the East 34th Street heliport, to regulate hours and numbers of flights there to reduce noise levels. The court therefore affirmed the city's right to issue regulations to decrease noise levels at airports (heliports, seaplane bases) on city property, that a reduction in number of flights will reduce noise, and that the city may restrict sightseeing air tours in favor of transportation flights deemed more beneficial to the city.

This historic appellate decision is the first to focus exclusively on air tour regulation. By successfully banning sightseeing seaplanes and tour helicopters from city-owned facilities (the tour helicopter ban being phased in over several years), New York City sets a precedent for municipalities nationwide seeking to regulate air tours. Residents in CA, NV, AK and elsewhere have already shown interest in applying this ruling to their localities and there have been inquiries from abroad.

Helicopters have long been the focus of nationwide protest due to their uniquely disturbing noise signature, unlimited hovering, high volume and frequency of flights, no minimum altitude, no required routes, no curfew, and general lack of regulation. In addition to noise, complaints have centered on air pollution and health and safety threats. The 1999 NYC Heliport and Helicopter Master Plan recounted the history of community complaints in NYC. The Natural Resource Defense Council examined the helicopter problem in their 1999 study "Needless Noise: the Negative Impacts of Helicopter Traffic in New York City and the Tri-State Region." The Federal Aviation Administration is currently conducting a national study on the negative effects of nonmilitary helicopters on residents of large cities and has testimony from people throughout the country who echo the complaints of NYC residents.

Tour helicopters are a major focus of complaints. The NYC policy to ban tour aircraft from city facilities resulted from the widespread community distress caused by air tours. For years, municipalities throughout the country have been frustrated by their inability to control sightseeing aircraft. This recent appellate decision may empower municipal governments nationwide to control air tours in their jurisdictions.

The Helicopter Noise Coalition of NY*C, a city-wide nonprofit organization established in 1997, seeks to reduce the negative impacts of non-emergency helicopters through legislation and government regulation.

For more information, contact: Joy Held, President, (212) 628-3126 tel & FAX

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