Hudson Midair Brings Scrutiny To NY VFR Corridors (Again)

  • E-Mail this Article
  • View Printable Article
  • Text size:

    • A
    • A
    • A

The midair collision Saturday of N71MC, a Piper PA32R aircraft, and N401LH, a Eurocopter AS350 rotorcraft operated by Liberty Helicopters American Eurocopter, over the Hudson River killed all nine people aboard both aircraft and again brought attention to the flight rules that govern the narrow, high-traffic VFR corridors that border Manhattan. On Monday, elected officials staged a media event to draw attention to the dangers they perceive from the general aviation traffic that flows through the area. The National Air Transport Association (NATA) has also called the media attention on the corridor operations "misplaced," saying the mix of traffic in that area is "subject to numerous regulatory requirements."

The rules allow aircraft to fly at less than 1,100 feet in some areas over the Hudson River, meaning that traffic is funneled between skyscrapers that are now on both the New York and New Jersey sides of the river, over bridges, barges and boats, and under the imaginary ceiling that forms the bottom of very busy Class B airspace between Newark, and both LaGuardia and JFK International airports. In practice, VFR traffic flying the route will often be passing opposite-direction traffic flying at the same altitude at points where the river is less than one mile wide. Along with the visual picture outside, VFR pilots flying the corridor must also keep up (via radio) with the mental moving picture of where other aircraft are and where those aircraft are going to be relative to their own changing position. The NTSB said Monday that within three miles of the accident site the average traffic has recently been 225 aircraft per day. New York Senator Charles Schumer noted Sunday that the investigation is incomplete but said through a statement, "I have long believed that virtually unregulated general aviation flight traffic over the Hudson River poses a serious safety and security risk to new Yorkers."

Aside from monitoring and self-announcing on the common frequency, those pilots entering and exiting the corridor may also be tasked with monitoring or communicating on other frequencies too. Such would often be the case for aircraft as they transition to Teterboro, from which the Saratoga had departed, or in and out of heliports as the Eurocopter did.