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Flying the Hudson River

Introduction & Contents

This group of pages discusses rules, regulations and best practices for flying light aircraft on the popular sightseeing route of the Hudson River, passing through the metropolitan New York City area. The instructions are intentionally verbose and try to include all of the things a prudent pilot should know about before flying in the area. Here's what's here...

Page 1: This page

Why Fly the Hudson
Major Risk Factors
Current Airspace Info
How the Locals Do It

Page 2: Detailed North to South Checkpoints
Page 3: Some Random Pieces of ATC Information

If you have comments on these pages, believe something should be added/deleted and most especially, if you believe something to be wrong or unsafe, please use the Contact form on this site to let me know. Also, if you have pictures you would like to contribute which would fit into some of the areas that are missing on the chart page still in progress, let me know.


Disclaimer: I'm neither a flight instructor, FSDO or FAA official. I'm a local pilot and have seen a lot of requests on bulletin boards, etc. from pilots wondering about flying in the area. So I've put together these pages. I don't guarantee accuracy or currency. YOU are responsible for your own navigation and FAR compliance. These pages may have TOO much information. But I've tried to put this together for someone who may be wholly unfamiliar with the area. Everything in here assumes that you'll get the appropriate charts and take some time digesting all this. It's MUCH easier than it looks in text. But I'm trying to include everything.

The below information talks about flying the Hudson area, the Class B airspace, etc. If you want, you can skip to this page for specifics on the VFR Corridor itself: Hudson Corridor, North to South Page.

Why Fly the Hudson?

The whole Hudson Valley, NY from Albany right down past the Verrazano Narrows Bridge is amazing. The difference in terrain from countryside to small cities to New York City represents contrast, history and huge seasonal variety.

What are the major risk issues of flying the Hudson River Corridor?
  • High traffic density with some tight airspace restrictions. Starting from Albany down there are multiple small airports on both sides of the river. In the Newburgh area, these include Stewart (SWF), (which as a dual use airport will occasionally have military traffic in the form of helicopters and transport category aircraft.) On the other side of the river is Dutchess County/Poughkeepsie, (POU) airport. Continuing south down the Hudson, you'll pass the restricted area over West Point Military Academy (R-5206) which may or may not be active depending on when you pop over. Next will be Westchester County airport, (HPN), which is a busy NYC reliever airport will be just to the east. Shortly thereafter, you will find aircraft zigging and zagging there way among the various approach routes to all three major NYC airports, (Kennedy, LaGuardia , and Newark Liberty), in addition to other New Jersey side smaller airports such as Teteboro, (which is smaller than the majors, but hardly "small"). Next will be the 30th street heliport on Manhattan's west side until you are finally "released" towards the lower bay area past the Verazzano Bridge. (At which point you can begin looking out for some restricted airspace around some New Jersey military airfields.)
  • Pilots unfamiliar with area/procedures. If you're here and reading this, your not the sort that's likely part of the problem. But as you might imagine, some don't gather "all information pertaining to the flight." Some gather only, "information pertaining to the flight that's really easy to get with little effort and expense."
  • Violation of existing airspace. As with any major metropolitan area, there exist significant airspace restrictions in the form of Class B zones, various Class D locations and some restricted areas as well.
  • Violation of NOTAM airspace. As a major metropolitan area, there are occasionally incidents, (such as a fire or other disaster), which would result in a NOTAM.
  • Violation of TFR areas. Even before the 9/11 terrorist attacks, NYC would occasionally be subject to flight restrictions due to Presidential or some other dignitaries travel. This can result not only in airspace restrictions, but sometimes temporary closing of airports such as Westchester County.

    NOTICE: The north part of the Hudson VFR Corridor would become part of the blanket TFR provisions regarding stadiums and number of people present during a NY Yankee baseball game at Yankee stadium, which is locacted in the Bronx just a bit southeast of the George Washington Bridge. This means checking for TFRs should include checking to see if there's a game the day/evening you intend to fly this area: Yankee Game Schedule. This TFR is covered in NOTAM 3/1862. Remember that this NOTAM says airspace is prohibited 1 hour before and 1 hour after game time.

    Violation of Common Sense. As a light aircraft pilot, you're aware that 99.9% of the paranoia regarding terrorist risks due to light aircraft are wholly bogus. Nonetheless, the groundlings have their media induced fears. When flying the area, act like a sightseer, not a stalker. The vague government directives to not "loiter" over certain areas such as landmarks, etc. are sensible if only to not cause the uninitiated to seek out even more restrictive regulations. And the reality is "bad" behavior in this area very well could result in an intercept. More likely from New York City or Coast Guard helicopter than from military jets, but nonetheless, it's possible and more likely if you do something foolish like overstay your welcome orbiting landmarks, etc.
  • There is basically no place to safely land. There are some piers that seem empty. Not real sure how stable they are. There's a couple of parking lots on the New Jersey side of the river. Basically, you're probably going in the water if you have a power plant failure or you're going to bend metal in the few poor land based spots where you could even think about trying to settle in. If you must ditch, your most significant consideration will be to do so somewhere along the way you'll be able to get out of the river. That is, close to shore where there's a means to get dry. There's plenty of places where the riverbank is not amenable to easily climbing out. The Hudson also has a current of up to several knots, which in some places can even be running UP river. (Technically, it's not even a river at all in some places, it's a "tidal estuary" and is very much subject to tidal changes. If you end up swimming, just try to go directly to the side and float to where you can get out; wherever the current is taking you.
Still Coming?

Good. It's fun. Here's some quick things you should know or have first.

    • NY Sectional
    • VFR Terminal Area Chart for NY
      (note: a portion of the NYC Helicopter chart is on the back of this VFR chart.)
  • OPTIONAL for Hudson
    • Helicopter Route Chart for NY
      (you will need this if you want to fly up or around the East River or do any transitions directly across Manhattan.)
Current Airspace Info
  • DUAT
    • Besides the obvious weather info, you simply MUST check for any brand new TFRs. If launching from a local airport, it might be good to phone up just before launching and ask for an "abbreviated briefing" to supplement DUATs; That is, just tell the briefer you want an "abbreviated briefing" and any fresh TFR or NOTAM information in metro NYC area. This assumes you've used already gotten a full DUAT briefing. If not, of course, get the whole briefing from flight services. The point of specifying "abbreviated briefing" to supplement DUATs is really just to be on tape indicating you otherwise have the appropriate information. If something does 'pop-up' after you depart, at least when it comes time to talk to the FAA, you can show that you had done everything prudently possible in terms of getting all information pertaining to your intended flight.
  • TFRs
    • As of this update, (winter 2004), there are no inherently special restrictions remaining in the area based on the 9/11 terrorist attacks. However, the usual need to not loiter over points of interest or places with security concerns, (e.g. nuclear power plants, landmarks), would be a wise thing to respect.
    • I will also repeat the standard TFR warning about Yankee stadium. The north part of the Hudson VFR Corridor would become part of the blanket TFR provisions regarding stadiums and number of people present during a NY Yankee baseball game at Yankee stadium, which is locacted in the Bronx just a bit southeast of the George Washington Bridge. This means checking for TFRs should include checking to see if there's a game the day/evening you intend to fly this area: Yankee Game Schedule. This TFR is covered in NOTAM 3/1862. Remember that this NOTAM says airspace is prohibited 1 hour before and 1 hour after game time.
How the Locals Do It (or should be anyway)
  • Whether your Going within the Class B or staying in the VFR Corridor...
    • Have the VFR chart out and folded appropriately.
    • Stay on the WEST side of the river if going SOUTHbound "DOWN" the river or stay on the EAST side of the river, (Manhattan side), if going NORTHbound "UP" the river. (Basically, same as U.S. auto driving. Stay on the right.)
    • Have the appropriate self-announce frequencies dialed in. Even if you're going via ATC control through Class B, it can't hurt to monitor who else is around if you have that capability.

      Self Announce Frequencies
      Hudson 123.05
      East River 123.075
      Emergency/Guard 121.5
      If you're intercepted, this is likely how they'll try to contact you via radio.
      NY Approach 126.4
      Before getting into the lower areas, (for example, south of the Tappan Zee Bridge), it can be useful to monitor NY Approach on this frequency if you're not actually talking to them here for flight following anyway. You'll at least hear other traffic calls and perhaps yourself being called out as a target for others.

    • Per charted instructions..
      1. Do not exceed 140 knots IAS
      2. Turn on anti collision, position/navigation, and/or landing lights.

  • Going Via the Class B
    • If ATC isn't too busy, and depending on what approaches are in use at the major airports, you might just get a clearance. In fact, unless they're truly busy, you should get what you ask for.
    • Do NOT be afraid of NY ATC. They're ok folks just doing their job. Assuming there's no special security in place, you may even enjoy visiting the NY TRACON in Westbury, Long Island sometime. In any case, as you might expect, you want to try to get into the system a bit early so as to not be moments from penetrating Class B before you call in. A couple of these guys do have the the NY accent thing going on. Don't worry. They won't hurt you. And I know you know this, but... remember, you do need to hear the Magic Words, "Cleared into or through or whatever the Class B." If you don't hear the words "Class B" confirm well before you cross the line.
    • Monitor the appropriate frequency first and make your request quick and clean. (Obviously, if you're hearing other folks being denied flight following due to workload and Class B requests, don't bother.)
    • "Quick" doesn't mean you have to adopt NYC speed talk. It just means you have clarity in what you're going to say and you deliver your request without a lot of thinking you should have done before you started talking.
    • Here's an example of a call-in request, "New York Approach, Bugsmasher 123, Croton Point, two thousand, request Class B clearance down Hudson to Colt's Neck VOR." (or "down Hudson to the Lady and back -- "the Lady" being a common local designation for the Statue of Liberty.)
    • You probably don't even need the "Colt's Neck" (VOR) or a destination, but giving this avoids the controller having to ask you your destination. Sometimes they ask this, sometimes they don't. Why and when they need this information to some degree depends on what you ask for and from which sector your approaching. Can't hurt to throw it in though.
    • Alternatively, of course, you can always just use the super abbreviated "New York Approach, Bugsmasher 123, request." When they call you, you'll know you have their attention. (Which is no excuse for a overly drawn out request in any case, but you'll know it's your turn.)
    • You MUST get the VFR chart and see for yourself, but some good places to call in to request your clearance might be...

      North Frequencies

      Croton Point. 7nm north of Tappan Zee bridge and just north of Sing Sing prison checkpoint on VFR chart. (Even though Sing Sing is the official checkpoint flag on the VFR chart, I can't remember ever hearing anyone use it in the 10 years I've been flying around here. They know where Croton Point is.)

      WARNING: HPN approaches may be headed toward Rwy 16 around here and a lot of VFR traffic is being sent to the Tappan Zee prior to going inbound HPN. Traffic may be crossing the river west to east and descending to a pattern altitude of around 1500' or climbing out east to west.)

      Northeast Frequencies
      Norwalk. If you're coming down the coast, you can call here for flight following, but you still have a ways to go to get to the Hudson. You'll also need to watch out for Westchester County Class D airspace. 126.4
      South Frequencies
      Colt's Neck VOR, Sandy Hook. WATCH IT! You've got a Class B floor at 3,000 over land in New Jersey, but it drops to 1,500 very soon and starts at 1,500 just east over the water. 127.4
      West Frequencies
      If you're tooling around VFR, this is an interesting direction to come from. Between Essex Country and Morristown airports' Class D airspace areas followed by Newark and Teteboro... well, unless you're somewhat familiar with the area, this would not be the suggested easy sightseeing approach.  

    • Be ready to take notes. You'll get a squawk code just as you typically would for flight following or Class Whatever airspace tracking, but in this neck of the woods you'll also be switching frequencies several times within a very short time span.

  • Going via the VFR Corridor. (No Class B Clearance Necessary)

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