By Michael YEGHIAYAN
A new measure set to regulate the use of low-flying helicopters in the city is facing opposition from local pilots. Introduced by Congressman Adam Schiff (D-28), the Los Angeles Residential Helicopter Noise Relief Act (H.R. 456) would aim to reduce the noise pollution created by non-emergency helicopter flights.
If passed, the bill will call upon the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to regulate the airspace over residential neighborhoods. It will specifically target minimum altitudes for helicopters and outline specific flight routes in Los Angeles County.
However, pilots set to be affected by the potential new legislation strongly oppose the proposed regulations. While the bill targets general helicopter noise, its passage is expected to have only minimal impact on the operations of emergency vehicles, which are responsible for a majority of low-altitude flights.
Among those in opposition to the bill is Larry Welk, president of the Professional Helicopter Pilots Association, who argues that the passage of such a law will not help the city achieve its goal of reducing noise pollution.
“In Los Angeles, residents are living in an extremely urban environment and helicopters are a part of that environment,” said Welk. “Almost all of the low flying noise comes from service and emergency helicopters such as those working with the fire department, police, or utilities. Oftentimes helicopters are mistaken for paparazzi or tour guides when in reality they are service vehicles.”
Generally speaking, emergency vehicles fly lowest to the ground with more direct routes in order to minimize travel time. Most commercial flights and media aircraft operate at much higher altitudes.
Rep. Schiff asserts that the noise from these vehicles will be addressed outside of the legislation.
“There is little doubt that police, first responders and other public safety helicopters comprise a significant portion of helicopter noise in residential communities, and while these agencies of necessity are excluded from the bill, we will be working with them to reduce their contribution to the noise in non-emergent situations,” explained Rep. Schiff. “Residents throughout the area – from Pasadena to the Foothills and West Hollywood – deserve peace and quiet, and it’s my hope that this legislation requiring the FAA to set reasonable guidelines will finally be taken up this session and passed.”
Thus far, the Los Angeles Residential Helicopter Noise Relief Act has shown strong support among some residents, a number of local leaders in the city, and California’s representatives both in the House and Senate. The bill is supported not only by Rep. Schiff, but also California Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein as well as Reps. Henry Waxman, Brad Sherman, and Janice Hahn.
As the bill makes its way through the legislative system, Welk argues that the lack of dialogue between the helicopter community and local lawmakers is to blame for the public’s misperception of the issue.
“We have seen the beginnings of a conversation with individual neighborhoods on how best to address the problem of noise,” explained Welk. “The problem is that this has become a ‘Not in my backyard’ type of issue and if this law passes, all of the progress we’ve made will be for nothing.”
The bill was originally introduced to Congress on Feb. 4. It currently is assigned to the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. In a letter of support to the committee, the Los Angeles County board of supervisors wrote, “Such regulations would address the enormously disruptive noise caused by low-flying helicopters on non-emergency flights, such as tours and paparazzi photo shoots.”
Rep. Schiff cites a number of complaints about helicopter noise across the city as a frequently voiced problem heard by his office. According to the bill, Los Angeles experiences an especially high volume of helicopter traffic because it features a “unique and excessively large concentration of scenic, historic, entertainment, and transportation venues, including sight-seeing, movie studios, movie star homes, outdoor entertainment facilities, Griffith Park, the Hollywood sign, freeways, and many others, that generate extensive helicopter activity.”
The foothills, in particular, are highly susceptible to excessive noise from helicopter flights.
“Residents living throughout the Los Angeles area are deeply impacted by the intrusive, disruptive and often non-emergency related helicopter traffic above their homes and neighborhoods,” said Rep. Schiff. “With the mountainous terrain of the foothills, noise from the low-flying helicopters is often concentrated to extremely high levels, especially given the area’s proximity to freeways, the Rose Bowl, and celebrities’ homes, as well as existing established flight paths.”
Tinkering with the busy Los Angeles airspace, however, may prove to be an extremely difficult task for the FAA to pull off.
“This city has some of the most complex airspace in the world,” said Welk. “Setting arbitrary altitudes is a danger to the flying public and to those on the ground.”