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Helicopter tours are a dangerous attraction, says aviation expert

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(NEW YORK CITY) – Justin Green is straight and to the point when it comes to helicopter tours — the risk is not worth the reward, he says.

“You’re paying money to go on a flight where you really don’t know whether the pilot, if he is confronted or if she is confronted with something dangerous, whether that person is going to have the training, experience, and background to do the right thing and save your life,” said Green at his Manhattan office less than 24 hours after heroic tour pilot Michael Campbell successfully orchestrated a hard landing on the Hudson River Sunday afternoon resulting in no injuries to his passengers.

The world of aviation always involves a slight risk, but Green says the inherent danger is more profound in helicopter tours since operators are not necessarily providing the most experienced pilots in the cockpit. “The pilots are a mix bunch.  Most of them though are not coming from the military. They don’t pay enough to encourage someone who has been in the military to come and fly.”

Kreindler and Kreindler in Midtown is one of the premier aviation law firms in the nation.  Green is an attorney as well as partner.  He’s also been flying helicopters since the Reagan Administration.  Green was an attack helicopter pilot in the Marine Corp as well as an Aviation Safety Officer.  He has he investigated helicopter crashes and survived them.  One in the California desert near Yuma, Arizona, followed by a commercial flight in Florida in 1987.  His take on flight tours?

“Unless the FAA truly oversees the safety of these outfits, which they are not doing, the city should ban them,” says Green without skipping a beat.

The reason they should be grounded? It’s all about the bottom line, “It certainly is possible to have a reasonably safe helicopter tourism business in New York, but not when you have companies competing with each other to keep the prices down which means you’re paying the pilots less, you’re spending as little as possible on maintenance and that’s kind of the situation we have.”

The air space around Manhattan is arguably the most congested in the nation.  According to NTSB stats there have been seven incidents involving helicopter flights around Manhattan since 2006.  Green has been involved in two of those cases, including representing the family of the helicopter pilot in the deadly 2009 mid-air collision over the Hudson.

One of Green’s primary reasons as to why he would never let a friend or family member on a helicopter tour boils down to multitasking.  Unlike city tour buses that have a driver as well as a guide, helicopter tour pilots have to wear a couple of hats during flight, “The pilot not only has to fly the helicopter but he has to be looking at, he has his head on a swivel looking out, aircraft coming in helicopters coming around.” Green goes on to add, “That particular part of the job, is something that, it’s not a piloting responsibility, it’s not something that a pilot should be doing while operating in that environment.”

Then why is it allowed?

“It’s allowed because a tour guide would weigh about 180lbs. unless he is larger than that, which means one person is out.”

Which ultimately means the bottom line gets impacted.

Green adds that  the potential dangers are not only hovering in New York City, but in every tourist mecca, “If I went out to one of these outfits whether it’s New York, or whether its Hawaii, or whether it’s the Grand Canyon you don’t know what you’re getting.”