"I've literally gone into the bath tub and gone under the water to get away from them, and I can hear them UNDER the water." — Karen McDermott, Manhattan resident


HOST: You know those double-decker tour buses they have in a lot of big cities, sometimes the second deck has no deck, all the better to site-see by? In New York those buses could not be more passé. The helicopter tourism industry is booming in the Big Apple, with tens-of-thousands of visitors paying big bucks for a bird's-eye view of the city. The catch, of course, is that with helicopters, comes helicopter noise and unhappy locals. A compromise has been worked out, but nobody is happy about it. In New York, Adrian Ma explains.

(SOUND: a helicopter rumbling in the background)

MA: People come from all over the world to get a glimpse of New York's iconic skyscrapers. But for some of them, the ol' double-decker bus just doesn't cut it. So they pay anywhere from 200 to 2,000 bucks a pop for a ride in one of these .... 

(SOUND: close up of a helicopter cranking up)

MA: After taking off from a heliport at the Southern tip of Manhattan, the choppers ferry tourists up and down the Hudson River for an Instagramable view of the city.

HOLLAND: What better way to see New York City than via the sky?

MA: That's Taylor Holland from Sydney, Australia. 

HOLLAND: Awesome day for it, awesome view, amazing photos, loved every minute. 

MA: Holland says the ride was totally worth it. And Holland isn't alone. Chopper tour operators say business has taken off over the past few years, with nearly 60,000 tours given in the just the past year. If you only count the hours they're allowed to fly, that's an average of one chopper every three-and-a-half minutes!

(SOUND: a helicopter takes off) 

MA: Of course, as chopper tours increased, so did the noise complaints. And in response to pressure from community activists, the city is now forcing tours to cut their flights in half. Karen McDermott lives on the west side, right along the tours' flight path, and says she'd rather see the them banned completely. Even though she grew up near Laguardia airport, and was use to the sound of planes, she says, helicopters are different.

MCDERMOTT: You're feeling it in your chest. You actually physically feel them, you don't just hear them.

MA: Standing in the her living room recently, even with the windows closed, I could feel a low vibration with each passing chopper.

MCDERMOTT: So as high as I put my music or if I put on the TV, it doesn't matter. I've literally gone into the bathtub and gone under the water to get away from them. And I can hear them, under the water! 

GOLDSTEIN: I'm not here to say that they're not hearing noise, because a helicopter makes sounds.

MA: Sam Goldstein is a lobbyist for the five helicopter tour companies that operate in Manhattan. He says, the tours have been great for the city. As evidence, he points to an NYU study funded by an industry group called the Eastern Region Helicopter Council. Using data from the helicopter companies, the study estimated the tours generated about $30 million dollars in economic activity for the city back in 2010. Goldstein believes that number's even is higher now.  

GOLDSTEIN: We offer a great product, which people come here and they demand. The numbers show it. You know, when you have hundreds of thousands of people who come here and take a tour, that's undeniable.

MA: He also says the companies employ more than 200 pilots, mechanics, and sales staff. So as they see their business chopped in half, they may also have to cut jobs.

GOLDSTEIN: It's tough on our operators and tough on our businesses. Fifty percent can be really, you know, in a lot of cases a near fatal cut. But we worked with the city to find something that we think will keep us operating and make the community get some noticeable relief.

MA: When I spoke to Goldstein in August, tours had already been cut by 20%. So I decided to check in with Karen McDermott to see if she was getting some relief. As it turns out, her apartment was a lot quieter … but mostly because she'd spent about 25-grand on new insulated windows. 

 (SOUND: of chopper buzzing in background)

MCDERMOTT: That's with the window open." (window slides shut)

MA: And that's with the window closed. 

MA: That really makes a difference.

MCDERMOTT: Yeah, that's why they're $25,000 (laughs).

MA: And if McDermott wants it to stay quite, she'll need to keep those windows closed a lot of the time. Even with chopper tours cut in half, that's still about 30,000 helicopters that'll buzz past her building next year. In New York, I'm Adrian Ma for Marketplace.