The aircraft were in an area known as the "Hudson River VFR Corridor", which extends from the surface of the river to altitudes of 800 to 1,500 feet at various locations along the Hudson River in the immediate area of New York City. Within this corridor, aircraft operate under visual flight rules, under which the responsibility to see and avoid other air traffic rests with the individual pilots rather than with the air traffic controller.
Because of the heavy commercial air traffic into Newark, LaGuardia, and Kennedy airports, an air traffic control clearance is required to operate in much of the airspace around the city. Since ATC is often unwilling to grant this discretionary VFR clearance because of traffic volume, many airplanes that need to transit the New York metro area use the VFR corridor as an alternative to going east of the city or west. The corridor is also heavily used by helicopter tour companies, which take passengers on sight-seeing tours of the New York skyline. Visual flight rules on the river corridors by Manhattan have been subject to considerable debate since the 2006 New York City plane crash, in which New York Yankees pitcher Cory Lidle crashed into an apartment building while flying using visual flight rules on the East River. This was the first aircraft collision over the Hudson River since 1976.
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