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FAA Redesigns Hudson River Airspace

The crowded airspace over the Hudson River, where nine people died in the collision of a small plane and a sightseeing helicopter, will be split into a low-altitude zone for local traffic and a higher one for longer-distance flights, the Federal Aviation Administration said Monday.

Local planes and helicopters, such as those carrying commuters and sightseers, will be restricted to an altitude of 1,000 feet or less, said FAA chief Randy Babbitt.

Those passing through the New York City area on longer flights to other destinations will operate between 1,000 feet and 1,300 feet.

Higher altitudes will continue to be reserved for scheduled airline flights and other operations requiring authorization and monitoring by air traffic controllers.

The changes follow recommendations in an FAA task force report compiled after the collision. They are to take effect Thursday.

The crash killed five Italian tourists who were on a helicopter sightseeing tour of New York City, as well as their pilot. Three people died on a single-engine Piper that collided with it while on its way from Teterboro Airport in New Jersey to Ocean City, N.J.

Listen to the air traffic control audio from just before the crash (contains strong language).

Babbitt said Monday that the air traffic controller and supervisor who were on duty at Teterboro have been fired. They were previously suspended after an investigation found they weren't monitoring the pilot of the small plane as closely as they should have.

Plane pilot Steven Altman, 60, of Ambler, Pa., was unfamiliar with the corridor and had requested their guidance. The controller failed to notice that the pilot read back the wrong radio frequency after being told to switch over to the control tower at nearby Newark Liberty International Airport.

It's not clear whether Altman heard subsequent traffic warnings from controllers just prior to the collision. The Teterboro controller's supervisor was out of the building on a personal errand.

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer said Monday that the changes don't go far enough. He wants all aircraft in the corridor to be monitored by air traffic controllers and to be required to file flight plans, just as commercial airliners do.

"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.

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