Update From Washington » Adam SCHIFF

The FAA Must Improve LA’s Helicopter Noise Complaint System, Not End it

Helicopters play a crucial role in law enforcement, responding to medical emergencies and reporting on news and traffic. Most recently, they have been on the frontlines of California’s fight against wildfires. Yet for many residents of Los Angeles, the number of helicopter flights over their homes and neighborhoods is excessive, creates unwanted disturbances, and diminishes their quality of life.

I frequently hear concerns about helicopter noise, particularly from my constituents who live near helicopter flight paths, in the Foothills or – because of tour operators or paparazzi – in any neighborhood with a celebrity living nearby. All Californians are entitled to peace and privacy in their homes, which is why I have worked for years to address excessive helicopter noise. After working to create voluntary standards to no avail, the time has come for the Federal Aviation Administration to regulate helicopters in the Los Angeles airspace, a step that would improve safety and minimize noise disruptions in our communities.

In 2014, I worked with Senator Dianne Feinstein and then-Senator Barbara Boxer to pass a law that specified six helicopter noise-related criteria the FAA was required to meet within one year. If significant progress was not made on these six measures, the FAA would be required to regulate helicopter flights in the LA region. The passage of this law finally put the FAA on notice that Congress was serious about addressing helicopter noise, and we expected the agency to take swift action to study the problem and propose a solution.

In response, the FAA, for the first time, created a noise complaint system. This system, launched in 2015, provides Los Angeles residents a mechanism to report helicopter noise complaints. The system helped us collect data to determine the areas that are most affected by helicopter noise and what helicopter flights were most responsible for noise complaints, such as hovering over homes and communities during early or late hours. Three years later, we can see that, while in need of strong improvement (many believe some operators turn off their transponder to avoid identification), the complaint system did help residents hold pilots accountable, and help pilots identify bad actors.

Unfortunately, instead of acting on the three years of data about helicopter noise to address resident complaints, the FAA is now trying to go backwards. Last month, I learned that the FAA plans to end funding for the noise complaint system, and this comes on the heels of three years of relative inaction by the FAA. In 2015, the FAA conveniently determined that they had made enough progress on the issue of helicopter noise, and thus did not need to implement further regulations. They were wrong: residents did not experience significant noise relief, and the complaints continued. And now, the FAA is again trying to avoid responsibility by abandoning the complaint system altogether.

We cannot let the FAA continue to kick this can down the road while Los Angeles residents suffer the daily disruption of their rotors. That is why I joined Senators Feinstein and Harris, and other members of the Los Angeles Congressional delegation, in a letter to FAA urging them to reconsider the decision to shut down the noise complaint system. Given that Congress recently gave the FAA an additional $1.6 billion in funding, it’s simply not credible the FAA cannot afford to operate the complaint system that costs only $30,000 per year. The only reason to shut down the system is if you would simply rather not hear helicopter noise complaints.

Instead of dismantling the system, they should actively work to improve it. By incorporating new broadcast technology and making the complaint system available in additional languages, including Spanish, we can better ensure that the system is accessible to more Los Angeles residents, helping us develop solutions that improve the quality of life in our communities.

Several months ago, I offered an amendment to mandate that the FAA regulate helicopter noise in LA, but it was blocked by the Republican majority in Committee. But the FAA is on notice that if the majority in the House changes this fall and it does not take strong action to deal with this problem, Congress will. Los Angeles residents deserve better.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) represents California’s 28th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives.