February 28, 2013

Legislation requiring the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to set guidelines on flight paths and minimum altitudes used by helicopter operators in residential areas of Los Angeles County, CA, has been reintroduced in both the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate.

Sponsored by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-28-CA) and Sens. Diane Feinstein (D-CA) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA), the Los Angeles Residential Helicopter Noise Relief Act would require the FAA administrator to exempt from their requirements helicopter operations related to emergency, law enforcement or military activities.

The bills, which were introduced last month, also direct the FAA administrator to consult with local communities and helicopter operators to develop regulations that meet the needs of area residents and helicopter operators, as well as the agency. The House version has been referred to House Subcommittee on Aviation, while the Senate bill has been referred to the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.

Review the Senate bill S. 208 (247 KB, PDF)

Review the House bill H.R. 456 (247 KB, PDF)

Meanwhile, an FAA report recommending possible remedies to the noise situation in the Los Angeles basin is due out in May.

Residents and community groups in Los Angeles County have complained for years to local authorities about helicopter noise. However, the complaints reached their zenith in July 2012, during the so-called “Carmaggedon II” closure of the 405 Freeway. Car noise disappeared following closure of the highway, but the flood of media, paparazzi and touring choppers covering the event produced a chorus of complaints to the office of former Rep. Howard Berman (D-28-CA).

Berman and Rep. Brad Sherman (D-30-CA) in October 2011 co-sponsored the Helicopter Relief Act (HR2677), which would have imposed severe restrictions on helicopter traffic. While that bill went nowhere, it did prompt Congress to ask the FAA to study the issue of helicopter flights and noise in the greater Los Angeles area, said NBAA Western Region Representative Stacy Howard.

FAA representatives have held several meetings since last summer with the general public, area homeowners, helicopter users and other interested parties to get feedback on the issue.

Earlier this month, members of the Professional Helicopter Pilots Association met with area homeowner association representatives and tour operators, as well as helicopter operators for the news media, police, fire departments and the military.

“It was a four-hour, introductory meeting where we discussed the noise issues and our current limitations,” said Ricarda Bennett, legal counsel for PHPA, adding that the attendees agreed that more “who, what, when and where” information is needed about exactly which areas of Los Angeles County are experiencing the helicopter noise problems.

“If we can quantify that, we might be able to find ways to mitigate the noise problem,” Bennett added.

Controlling helicopter noise in Los Angeles by imposing traffic corridors or altitude restrictions, similar to what has been done in Long Island, NY, is very difficult because flights travel to and from a variety of points all across the county, Bennett said.

“Airspace and aircraft operations in Southern California are extremely complex and have been developed by FAA and the users over a period of years. We appreciate the work PHPA is doing with the community and hope it results in some non-regulatory solutions,” Howard said.

However, she noted, procedures to mitigate noise can backfire, as they did in 2007 in Long Island, NY when such changes resulted in three times the number of complaints because flights became concentrated over a smaller area on their way to and from the planned routes.

“NBAA will do our part in Washington to try to halt the progress of this bill,” Howard added. “Members of the aviation community need to help by contacting their elected officials to inform them of the importance of allowing FAA to maintain its pre-emptive authority over the airspace.