The Atlantic Health Overlook Hospital helipad debate, once again, dominates our public discussion. I support the concept of making the magnificent, life saving, stoke services available at Overlook to as many people as possible, as quickly as possible, even if by EMS helicopter. I do not, however, support the current proposal for a helipad on the roof of Overlook because it will expose our city to unacceptable levels of public safety risk. Contrary to what many residents may believe, the helipad is a Summit-wide problem. It affects the majority of the community, not just a small group living in proximity of Overlook.
We live near one of the busiest airports in the world, under some of the most restrictive and complicated controlled airspace in the world. Airliners, some as large as a Boeing 757, routinely descend right over Summit on final approach into Newark Airport along with numerous private and corporate aircraft operating out of Morristown Airport. A helicopter operating from the roof of Overlook doesn't have a lot of options and the margins for error are slim.
As a former Navy combat helicopter pilot who also holds a Federal Aviation Administration issued commercial helicopter pilot’s license, and a Master’s Degree in Aviation Management and Operations from Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, I consider Atlantic Health’s current proposal an elevated risk operation - One too risky for Summit. If you live within 4,000 feet of the hospital, in any direction, you could be right under, by less than 500 feet, the final approach, or initial departure path, of any helicopter operating at Overlook. This includes anyone within a radius extending to Highway 24, to Summit High School, to Interstate 78. It includes the downtown, and, in addition to the high school, includes numerous other schools including Summit Middle School, Brayton Elementary, Jefferson Elementary, Lincoln-Hubbard Elementary, Oak Knoll and Kent Place schools.
The complexity of the airspace, density of dissimilar air traffic, and often unpredictable visibility and winds over Summit, increase the risk of mid-air collisions, wake turbulence induced incidents and, almost always fatal, Controlled Flight into Terrain (CFIT) accidents when compared to other aircraft operating under the same category of Federal Aviation Regulations. Additionally, the lack of urgent and emergency landing options (there really are none) the closer the aircraft is to the hospital poses added, unacceptable, risk to our community.
I have been critical of Atlantic Health's approach from the beginning feeling it took Zoning Board approval for granted while avoiding the necessary, although uncomfortable, level of community engagement. Having lost with their original approach, and subsequent legal appeal, rather than now work with the community, they have chosen another path for approval, through the New Jersey Department of Transportation, which seeks to undermine our right to home rule. I adamantly oppose this latest approach not only because it seeks to bypass our local government but also because it callously and recklessly exposes our community to needless safety risks. Even if they win, it will be a bitter victory subject to perhaps years of legal appeals and, in the end, destroy more than a century of good will between the Summit community and Overlook.
There are alternatives. We need to explore solutions that will require compromises from both sides while making these life saving medical services quickly available to as many people as possible but without compromising the safety of Summit. We need to work towards this solution together. While I'm not naive enough to think there are not significant monetary and political factors in play, I believe most of us want to do what is right.
As I said to my wife the other day, I don't want to explain to someone's children, from outside the area, why one of their parents was lost because they couldn't get to Overlook fast enough. But, I also don't want to explain to Summit parents why their children were lost because of a helicopter mishap when they happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
I call upon all residents of Summit to oppose Atlantic Health’s pending application to the state Department of Transportation before the public comments window closes on January 13th. I also call upon Atlantic Health to begin working with the City of Summit to find an acceptable solution that works for both sides.
Member of Summit Common Council
Chairman of Public Safety
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