In Our Opinion
Aug 11, 2009 | 2481 views | 0 0 comments | 44 44 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Saturday’s aircraft tragedy on the Hudson River demands that federal, state, and city agencies begin regulating the busy air corridor to prevent future accidents.

The good thing is, it appears this might happen - though the logistics of such a reform are complicated, and expensive.

Nonetheless, elected officials seem committed to reducing the possibility of crashes like the one August 8 between a plane and helicopter that left nine people dead.

The incident is an ideal catalyst for reexamining the highly unregulated Hudson River corridor, referred to often as an aircraft “wild west” where pilots must survive on their own devices.

Currently, the airspace 1,100 feet and below along the river is classified as an “exclusionary zone,” meaning it is largely unregulated by the region’s air traffic control towers.

Pilots flying that route follow basic safety rules, and use a general “see and avoid” policy to ensure they stay clear of passing aircraft.

The route’s spectacular views of New York City attract tons of pilots willing to risk seeing and avoiding each other for trips up the river, discovered 400 years ago this year by the explorer Henry Hudson.

The New York Times reported that the city’s heliports service over 50,000 helicopter flights each year; each day in the week before the accident, 225 aircraft operated inside the exclusionary zone within three miles of the crash.

Traffic there is bad, like it is on a crowded avenue, and the stakes can be higher; small aircrafts are much more likely to crash than commercial airliners.

Indeed, there have been nine helicopter crashes over the Hudson River since 1960, including three since 1990.

Senator Charles Schumer called for a ban of air traffic along the corridor below 1,100 feet in 2005, but his proposal was ignored.

The following year, Yankees pitcher Corey Lidle and his flight instructor died when their plane hit a building overlooking the East River.

After that crash, the Federal Aviation Administration imposed strict regulations on aircraft traffic over the East River.

Now, elected officials are wondering, should the same be done along the Hudson River corridor?

Several plans have already surfaced, from banning air traffic altogether, to improving air traffic control capabilities in the exclusionary zone to encouraging better guiding technology for pilots.

Scott Stringer, Manhattan’s borough president, announced that “amateur hour in the sky” was over, though inexperienced pilots alone are not the root cause of unsafe conditions.

By all accounts Jeremy Clarke, the pilot of the helicopter that crashed on Saturday, was an experienced pilot who logged about 2,700 hours in the air.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, taking a more cautious approach, has said he is open to stricter regulations but would leave what kind, and their implementation, up to the federal government. (Ever the prudent businessman, the mayor has also noted regulations would cost money, and tax already overburdened airport safety services).

Whatever form future regulations eventually take, at least officials have come to a consensus that something must be done to make our skies safer.

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