NYC helicopter crash shows risks of Uber’s “urban air-taxi” fantasy

Photo credit: Beyond My Ken licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

by David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Today, The New York Times reported on a helicopter crash atop a midtown Manhattan skyscraper that left one person dead. The copter exploded, presumably throwing debris onto the streets below, though there are no reports of injuries on the streets below. One hundred emergency workers were called out.

We’ve written about the enthusiastic visions promulgated by Uber, NASA and others, for vast fleets of small “inter-urban air taxis” that use vertical take-off and landing. My concern, of course, is the increase in noise implied—even if these “air taxis” are electrically propelled. But the accident reported today shows the significant risk of crashes and potentially lethal debris falling on people in the streets below.

Last October, the 36-member Congressional Quiet Skies Caucus celebrated a significant achievement: passage of the FAA Re-Authorization Act which included several important clauses concerning the national problem of aircraft/airport noise. The reason we wrote about the Uber/NASA’s “air taxi” fantasy was because we hoped this group of members of Congress would realize that the battle to reduce aircraft noise and other dangers has now expanded to include roof-top heliports in densely populated urban centers like Manhattan, from which this next generation of small, electric VTOL aircraft could be deployed sometime in the near future.

The Congressional Quiet Skies Caucus needs to get back to work on this problem before Uber’s fantasy becomes our reality!

In addition to serving as vice chair of the The Quiet Coalition, David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: The Acoustics Research Council, American National Standards Institute Committee S12, Workgroup 44, The Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Working Group—a partner of the American Hospital Association. He is the lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0 (2012, Springer-Verlag), a contributor to the National Academy of Engineering report “Technology for a Quieter America,” and to the US-GSA guidance “Sound Matters”, and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics (LARA) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He recently retired from the board of directors of the American Tinnitus Association. A graduate of the University of California/Berkeley with graduate degrees from Cornell University, he is a frequent organizer of and speaker at professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.

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