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Hudson River airspace gets new rules

By Jesse Solomon, CNN
The FBI investigates the remains of the helicopter involved in the August collision that triggered the new rules.
The FBI investigates the remains of the helicopter involved in the August collision that triggered the new rules.
  • Rules are response to collision over the Hudson River in New York in August
  • FAA says rules will help by separating local flights from those passing through area
  • Rules affect altitude, speed, location based on direction of travel
  • New York senator says he'd like rules to be stronger

New York (CNN) -- Reacting to a fatal collision of a sightseeing helicopter and small plane over the Hudson River in New York in August, a federal agency announced new regulations Monday tightening its control of the airspace.

The new rules, which will go into effect Thursday, "will enhance safety by separating low-altitude, local aircraft flights over the Hudson River from flights transiting through the river airspace," the Federal Aviation Administration said in a news release.

Aircraft "transiting through" the Hudson River airspace will be required to stay between 1,000 and 1,300 feet in altitude, while local pilots must operate below 1,000 feet, it said.

The new regulations create an exclusion zone for pilots who are over the Hudson River below 1,300 feet, in which they "must announce their aircraft type, position, direction and altitude at charted mandatory reporting points, and must stay along the New Jersey shoreline when southbound and along the Manhattan shoreline when northbound," the FAA said.

FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt issued a statement outlining the new rules. "Separating aircraft on different missions and improving pilot situational awareness will add more layers of safety to the high-demand airspace," he said.

The FAA also ruled that previously recommended safety procedures are now mandatory, including maintaining a speed no faster than 140 knots, self-announcing aircraft position on specific radio frequencies, and carrying current charts to familiarize the pilot with the airspace. Pilots must also turn on anti-collision navigation lights provided their aircraft is equipped with them, the release said.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood hailed the FAA's action, saying, "these new rules will ensure that aircraft can operate safely in the busy Hudson River airspace."

The Hudson River corridor, known as the "Hudson highway," is one of the most heavily trafficked airspaces in the country. The August 18 incident, in which a sightseeing helicopter carrying Italian tourists collided with a small Piper fixed-wing plane, left nine people dead.

The FAA has come under heavy scrutiny as a result of the crash, especially after recordings released in October revealed an air traffic controller with responsibilities in the area joking with a woman about a dead cat just moments before the accident.

Monday's announcement drew some criticism from Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, who had been lobbying the FAA to institute changes in the laws governing the airspace.

"While we appreciate the FAA's continued focus on closing this serious gaping hole in air safety over New York City, unfortunately these rules leave the hole too wide open" Schumer said in a written statement. "Not to require flight plans, nor have controllers in charge of airspace below 1,000 feet means that flights will still be able to crisscross the skies over the Hudson River unmonitored."