Questions about tour helicopter safety

August 10, 2009 2:41:03 PM PDT
Air traffic along the Hudson River has been described as chaotic. So what kind of rules are in place for sightseeing companies like Liberty Helicopter Tours, which began operating in 1990?

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    In 2007, a Liberty helicopter fell 500 feet from the sky, but landed safely on the river.

    At New York City's heliports today business was still booming.

    Saturday's collision apparently had little effect, although Liberty remained grounded. The four other helicopter tour companies packed their choppers on Monday.

    "I think right now, with all of the media attention, everyone is going to be on the top of their game. I don't have any reservations about going," tourist Macy Pinkussohn said.

    Five separate companies now run helicopter air tours over the New York airspace. Only three of them are allowed to get within a half mile of the Statue of Liberty.

    Five years ago the FAA and the national park system tightened regulations to help manage air space particularly in areas like New York, Hawaii and the Grand Canyon.

    Jeff Smith, who represents helicopter operators, says the standards are strict all around,, especially for pilots.

    "We can't just hire private pilots or just anybody who might come in for hire. There's a lot of criteria that has to be met," Smith said.

    Helicopter pilots are usually ex-military or they've gone through helicopter flight training to become a certified instructor.

    "You can't hire a 150 and 200 hour pilot to go and do these tours with people on board," Smith explained.

    Mike Roth owns New York Helicopter, one of the 3 operators with a full National Park permission license.

    "I'm in contact with the FAA almost on a bi-weekly basis. They are continuously checking our records," Roth said. "As far as the air space is concerned, there's no problem inside the helicopter industry. Outside the industry is not knowing the rules of the road.

    Those in the helicopter industry also emphasize there has not been a mid-air collision between a helicopter and a small plane in 26 years.


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