Seeing the Lady: Fun but Risky

by
libvert

The Statue of Liberty from the air above the Hudson River (Miles O'Brien)

Flying low and slow over the Hudson River between Manhattan and New Jersey to “see the Lady” is a real eyeful and a ton of fun – but it is neither for the faint of heart nor the foolhardy aviators.

There is nothing inherently unsafe about it – but it does require a pilot’s full attention.

There are a few ways to do this. One way involves calling air traffic controllers who manage traffic in the New York City region. You tell them where you are – and what you would like to do. If they are not too busy, they will clear you in to the so-called “Class B” airspace – usually at an altitude of about 2,500 – 3,000 feet. – or about twice as high as the Empire State Building.

This is probably the safest way to fly the river, but it is not as fun as going lower through the Visual Flight Rules (VFR) corridor. You can fly into that corridor without checking in with controllers manning “New York Approach” so long as you remain below 1,100 feet, stay near the river’s edges and fly no faster than 140 knots (160 mph) The rules are fairly straightforward, but it is extremely important that pilots become familiar with them in advance – and stick to the procedures.

First off, traffic should always stay to the right – aircraft going north are supposed to fly on the Manhattan side of the River. Pilots flying trips to the south are supposed to hug the New Jersey bank of the Hudson. There is a frequency that pilots are supposed to monitor – and announce their position – party-line style.

There are specific landmarks along the route where pilots are encouraged to report – the George Washington Bridge, The Intrepid Aircraft Carrier floating museum, The 30th Street Heliport, The Holland Tunnel (you can see the air shafts clearly), Governor’s Island and finally The Statue of Liberty (The Lady). The chopper pilots who fly these routes every day routinely make these reports – but frankly some general aviation pilots are better than others – and the radio reports are not mandated by any rules.

Bottom line: it is up to the individual pilot to “see and avoid” other traffic. I have flown this route many times, and I have often wished I could swivel my head like an owl as I looked for converging traffic.

One of the busiest spots in this busy corridor is right near the Heliport at 30th St. on a pier on the Manhattan side of the river. The tour choppers there come and go frequently. They take off, go straight across the river and then turn down to the south for a trip to the statue. The chopper involved in this collision was doing just that. The plane was flying south – unsure what speed or altitude.

But here is an important point: it was a Piper PA-32 – A Cherokee Six or Saratoga (the sort of plane John Kennedy Jr. flew to his demise). It is a low wing airplane with a rather long nose. In level flight, downward visibility for the pilot is not so good. So the ascending chopper might very well have been completely obscured by the wing and engine cowling.

Meanwhile, the chopper pilot might not have seen the plane either. You have to wonder if the plane pilot was issuing radio reports as he flew down the river. It is quite possible that each aircraft was in the other’s “blind spot”.

I do hope this does not lead to a knee-jerk permanent closure of the Hudson River VFR corridor (as was the case for the East River corridor after the Cory Lidle Crash in October 2006). The corridor is safe – so long as pilots go with the flow – keep their eyes open and make themselves be known to other aircraft.

More photos from the Hudson below.

(Miles O'Brien)

(Miles O'Brien)

skyline02

(Miles O'Brien)

Advertisements

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

13 Responses to “Seeing the Lady: Fun but Risky”

  1. Mark Drapeau Says:

    What is the percentage of aircraft that have accidents over the Hudson? So low as to be forgettable. Sad accident, of course, but there’s really no more story to discuss here than the DC Metro crash – 99.9999% of the time, it doesn’t happen.

  2. rockyinlaw Says:

    Thank you, Miles O’Brien. Knew I could count on you for the right information.

  3. zuler01 Says:

    Guess the nine persons who died will feel relieved now. If even the author didn’t feel quite safe e few times I think there is something which can be done to avoid a next tragedy. Can’t just consider it as unavoidable “collateral damage”.

  4. Harrowing GA Collision on the Hudson « Says:

    […] what changes today’s mid-air will bring.  I’m right there with Miles O’Brien in hoping that it won’t be a knee-jerk permanent closure. Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)Plane crashes in NYC riverUS Airways A320 Lands […]

  5. Hudson Helicopter-Plane Collision Update: Bloomberg Statement, Theories [Crash Update] | Geek & High Tech Says:

    […] CNN anchor Miles O’Brien has some interesting insight on what may caused the crash over at True/Slant. Basically: this kind of thing isn’t a freak accident; the corridor is a […]

  6. Fran Johns Says:

    Do helicopter tour pilots stay audio-connected with others in their airspace? How hard is it to do that, while tour-guiding? Not presuming blame, just wondering about this in recalling past air tours.

    • Miles O'Brien Says:

      It is a lot to juggle, but the chopper pilots are pretty good at reporting. At the time of the collision, he would have been turning left – to the south – sitting in the right front seat – likely looking to the leftt – focused on making sure he did not turn into some traffic.

  7. Hudson Helicopter-Plane Collision Update: Bloomberg Statement, Theories, Impact Shot [Crash Update] | Geek & High Tech Says:

    […] CNN anchor Miles O’Brien has some interesting insight on what may caused the crash over at True/Slant. Basically: this kind of thing isn’t a freak accident; the corridor is a […]

  8. Seeing the Lady: Fun but Risky - Southern Maryland Community Forums Says:

    […] […]

  9. Hudson Helicopter-Plane Collision Update: Bloomberg Statement, Theories, Impact Shot | Pop News Daily Says:

    […] CNN anchor Miles O’Brien has some interesting insight on what may caused the crash over at True/Slant. Basically: this kind of thing isn’t a freak accident; the corridor is a […]

  10. Plane and Helicopter Collide Over New York’s Hudson River, Killing Nine People | NYCAviation.com | Planespotting and Aviation Photography, Breaking Airline News, Aviation Discussion Says:

    […] to see what changes today’s mid-air will bring, though I’m right there with Miles O’Brien in hoping that it won’t be a knee-jerk permanent closure. Tweet This!Share this on FacebookDigg this!Share this on RedditShare this on del.icio.usStumble […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: