By Michael YEGHIAYAN
Congressman Adam Schiff hosted a field hearing at the Autry Center on Monday to discuss the issue of helicopter noise in Los Angeles. The hearing was held in response to a recently released report by the Federal Aviation Administration that studied the Los Angeles airspace and corresponding noise.
The Los Angeles Residential Helicopter Noise Relief Act of 2013 was reintroduced to Congress by Schiff in the most recent session. The bill would require the FAA to set regulations limiting helicopter noise in certain residential areas.
Schiff and Rep. Tony Cardenas were joined by Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, representatives from the FAA, a neighborhood residents panel and a helicopter industry panel to discuss the report. The hearing at the Wells Fargo Theatre brought a vocal audience on both sides of the issue, all of whom were eager to have their voices heard.
In their report, the FAA advocated a voluntary, cooperative approach as the most effective means to reducing noise.
“This is arguably the most complex and congested airspace in the country, and possibly the world,” said FAA Deputy Regional Administrator David Suomi. “Our job is to provide a safe and efficient air transportation system; that is our mandate.”
A major point of contention between the FAA and the bill’s co-sponsors is the effectiveness of voluntary measures in reducing noise. While the FAA points to the success of voluntary measures in the reduction in noise between the two “Carmageddon” 405 freeway closures, the panel of elected officials argued that mandatory measures and sanctions are necessary to have an effective change in policy.
“I know there are many responsible helicopter pilots who, when asked to cooperate, have cooperated,” said Supervisor Yaroslavsky. “Unfortunately, I do not believe that voluntary measures work. We need teeth in the regulations.”
The complexity of Los Angeles airspace has complicated the issue and prevented the FAA from recommending mandatory standards. However, Schiff dismissed the argument and demanded mandatory regulations.
“Some operators have made it clear that they want no restriction. They feel they have an inherent right to hover at any altitude,” said Schiff. “We need to consider the economic impact of those in the helicopter industry as well as the economic impact of residents on the ground. Noise has an economic impact on housing values and quality of life, and residents have every right to be heard and respected.”
Representatives from the helicopter industry argued that the bill would not provide the noise relief expected by most residents and pointed to the regulations already adhered to by pilots. They argued that most of the helicopters operating at night or at low altitudes are emergency vehicles not affected by the bill and helicopter noise from private operators would simply be displaced to other neighborhoods.
Members of the Professional Helicopters Pilot Assn. also proposed a more sophisticated system of tracking helicopters partnered with a phone hotline for residents to help alleviate ground noise.
“While a small minority [of pilots] are irresponsible, most are dedicated, well trained helicopter professionals,” said PHPA President Larry Welk. “A lot of the comments that pilots have no regard for folks on the ground are simply not true.”
Other helicopter pilots in attendance expressed concern that additional regulation would threaten the safety of their industry. Commercial pilot Sibylle Allgaier believes that forcing helicopters to operate at higher altitudes will put them in flight paths of faster moving fixed-wing aircraft.
“I’m worried about this bill because I am afraid it could impact my life, my livelihood,” said Allgaier.
However, Schiff maintained that a fair compromise can be found that will reduce noise without putting pilots at any additional danger.
“The law is very explicit about safety; safety is paramount. Nobody wants the FAA to do anything that puts pilots in danger,” said Schiff. “However, if we can safely make changes that improve things for those on the ground, we will.”