Last week’s deadly collision between a small plane and a helicopter offered a terrible but potentially important insight into the way in which low-altitude traffic over the Hudson River is monitored.
No air-traffic controllers assist pilots flying at less than 1,000 feet over the Hudson River corridor. Anyone who has spent time watching air traffic from Riverside Park or Battery Park City knows just how congested the airspace over the Hudson has become in recent years. It was shocking, then, to learn that traffic on the West Side Highway is subjected to more regulation and monitoring than traffic flying over the highway.
While government is more than capable of overreacting in the face of tragedy or opportunity (see above), it seems clear that action is merited and indeed is overdue. The skies above the Hudson River may seem friendly, but last week’s accident showed that air-traffic professionals are needed to assist even seasoned pilots.
Pilots told the news media in recent days that they have a hard time seeing below their aircraft on certain types of small planes; some helicopter pilots have difficulty seeing above their craft’s rotors. That’s a formula for another deadly disaster.
Congestion and confusion over the Hudson could have terrible consequences not only for pilots and passengers, but for thousands of people on the ground if a disabled plane or chopper hurtled toward either riverbank. Federal aviation authorities are conducting their usual investigation of the accident. After the inquiry is complete, they should begin thinking of the next accident—and how to prevent it.
There’s no question that last week’s accident was an aberration. But it is important to make sure it remains one.