Congress OKs measure to cut helicopter noise in L.A. County

Helicopter noise
A helicopter flies over the Robinson Helicopter Co.'s headquarters in Torrance. Community groups have been trying to work with the firm to reduce noise around its plant.
(Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles Times)

For years, residents across Los Angeles County have complained about noise from low-flying helicopters, some of them carrying sightseers, paparazzi and even real estate agents. But new legislation, tucked into the massive federal spending bill approved by Congress last week, could offer relief.

The legislation requires the Federal Aviation Administration, within a year, to begin writing flight regulations to reduce the noise unless it can show that voluntary efforts are working.

The anti-noise measure, which applies only to the Los Angeles area, was included in a $1-trillion bill that funds federal agencies and programs through Sept. 30 and is designed to prevent another government shutdown. President Obama signed it into law Friday.

The FAA already has been working with neighborhood groups, anti-noise coalitions and helicopter pilots to come up with voluntary measures to reduce the number of annoying flights. A status report on the effort is due out soon.


The noise legislation was added to the 1,582-page omnibus spending bill at the urging of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and a group of Los Angeles area members of the House of Representatives, led by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank), joined the effort.

They figured they stood a better chance of advancing a measure targeting helicopter noise by attaching it to a must-pass spending bill rather than moving a long-stalled bill, known as the Los Angeles Residential Helicopter Noise Relief Act, through a regulatory-wary Republican-controlled House.

The bill also includes money for new transit projects, from which Los Angeles is expected to receive $65 million each for the subway extension to the Westside and construction of a regional connector for all the county’s light-rail lines.

The measure requires the FAA to evaluate and revise existing helicopter routes to reduce the effects of noise on residential areas and landmarks, such as the Hollywood Bowl, the Hollywood sign and celebrities’ homes.


The agency must study whether helicopters can fly safely at higher altitudes and promote the best ways to reduce noise while hovering and covering news events.

FAA officials also are required to develop a complaint system for the public and inform helicopter pilots about any voluntary guidelines and noise-sensitive areas of the county.

If the goals are not met with a voluntary approach one year after the bill is enacted, the FAA must develop regulations. The law, however, does not apply to flights by the military and public safety agencies.

The measure stems from years of complaints by residents of neighborhoods across Los Angeles County that have been buzzed by low-flying helicopters.

In August 2012 and June last year, hundreds of people turned out at two public hearings hosted by local elected officials. One after another they testified about the window-rattling din of rotor blades that made it difficult to sleep, talk on the telephone or have a conversation at normal volume.

FAA officials declined to comment on the noise relief act, saying they do not publicly discuss federal legislation that affects the agency as a matter of policy.

“Most of what they are talking about in the measure is already being done,” said Larry Welk, the owner of a helicopter company and president of the Professional Helicopter Pilots Assn. “Homeowner associations, noise coalitions and others involved say progress is being made.”

Helicopter pilots and their associations have questioned the need for the legislation and government regulation, saying the Fly Friendly program and other voluntary efforts to inform pilots about noise-sensitive areas and how to avoid them have been successful.


Welk said most of the noise problems actually involve helicopters operated by the military, police, fire departments and medical evacuation operations, all of which are exempt from the law. He estimated that those operators account for 70% of all flights in Los Angeles County.

John Bailey of Torrance, a member of the Los Angeles Area Helicopter Noise Coalition, disagreed with Welk, saying the legislation is needed to spur the voluntary effort that is underway.

Bailey said community groups in Torrance have seen few results after working with city officials and helicopter interests, including the Robinson Helicopter Co., for at least four years to reduce noise in residential areas.

Based at Torrance Municipal Airport, Robinson is the world’s largest manufacturer of helicopters for the civilian market and conducts numerous flights over the South Bay.

“We have not seen a commitment from the helicopter operators,” Bailey said. “We’ve not gotten any relief.”

onducts numerous flights over the South Bay.


“We have not seen a commitment from the helicopter operators,” Bailey said. “We’ve not gotten any relief.”

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