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FAA Highlights Changes to Hudson River AirspaceSeptember 14 – After the tragic Aug. 8, 2009, accident involving a Piper airplane and a tour helicopter over the Hudson River, the FAA took swift action to enhance the safety of the air corridor.

On Nov. 19, the FAA made permanent changes that define separate corridors for aircraft operating locally and those flying along the Hudson River area. The new rules require pilots to follow safety procedures that were previously recommended but not mandatory.

The FAA conducted seminars and coordinated with pilot groups to help make pilots aware of the new requirements. The FAA also developed an online training program that covers flight operations in the New York area.

Other FAA Actions:

  • On Aug. 11, 2009, the FAA issued a Notice to Airmen advising pilots who fly over the Hudson and East Rivers to turn on their lights, use special radio frequencies, announce when they enter the airspace and fly at 140 knots or less.
  • On Aug. 14 the FAA convened a New York Airspace Working Group to examine operating procedures over the two rivers and recommend safety improvements by Aug. 28 to FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt.
  • On Nov. 16 the FAA issued the final rule mentioned above, which enhances safety by separating low-altitude, local aircraft flights over the Hudson River from flights flying above them. The rule went into effect on Nov. 19.

What the Hudson Rule accomplishes:

  • In a new Special Flight Rules Area over the Hudson and East Rivers, pilots must now maintain a speed of 140 knots or less; turn on anti-collision and aircraft position/navigation lights, if equipped; announce their position on specific radio frequencies, and carry current charts for the airspace and be familiar with them.
  • Pilots must stay along the New Jersey shoreline when southbound and along the Manhattan shoreline when northbound.
  • Pilots transiting the Hudson River must fly at an altitude between 1,000 feet and 1,300 feet. Local flights will operate in the lower airspace below 1,000 feet.
  • The rule also incorporated provisions of an October 2006 NOTAM that restricted fixed-wing aircraft in the exclusion zone over the East River to seaplanes landing or taking off on the river or those specifically approved by FAA air traffic control.
  • The agency conducted seminars with pilot groups to notify them of the new requirements. The FAA developed an online training program specifically for the new rules and airspace in the Hudson and East River corridors. 

Air Tour Safety:

  • Air tour safety is a high priority at the FAA. Air tours are subject to stringent FAA safety standards.
  • Air tour operators must meet the safety requirements in the 2007 National Air Tour Safety Standards rule (Part 136). Many companies operate under the time-tested safety rules of the Part 135 on-demand regulations, and the more exacting Air Tour requirements kick in when they are performing those flights.
  • Many “flight-seeing” companies that otherwise operate under the Part 91 general flight rules are also subject to the National Air Tour Safety Standards. These operators must comply with drug and alcohol testing, and must fly under a Letter of Authorization from their local FAA office that helps the agency establish a database of their operations.
  • The FAA has responded to all National Transportation Safety Board recommendations related to air tours. Since 1999, the NTSB has sent 24 such recommendations to the FAA. Of these, 13 are open or closed in an “acceptable” NTSB status, four are awaiting a response from the Board to FAA actions, and seven are closed or open in “unacceptable” status because of professional disagreement between NTSB and the FAA.