FAA says regulation not the answer to L.A. helicopter noise problems


A new federal report recommends taking a voluntary approach rather than government regulation to reduce the noise and safety risks of low-flying helicopters over neighborhoods across the Los Angeles Basin.

The study by the Federal Aviation Administration stems from requests by members of California’s Congressional delegation to address concerns about chopper flights over homes, businesses and landmarks, such as the Hollywood Bowl during performances.

The report immediately drew fire from Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) who doubted the effectiveness of voluntary approaches and questioned the FAA’s avoidance of regulatory action opposed by helicopter interests.


“Voluntary measures in the past have provided little relief for residents, and I am skeptical that without a determined effort to oversee them by the FAA that they will do so now,” said Schiff, who has co-sponsored legislation that would require the agency to regulate helicopter flights in Los Angeles County.

Schiff is scheduled to hold a public hearing June 10 in Los Angeles to address the study.

Given the complexity of the region’s airspace and enormous volume of aircraft, the report states that federal regulation governing helicopter flights would be extremely difficult -- if not impossible -- to develop. Changing altitudes or routes, for example, might push helicopters into flight paths used by faster airplanes.

Instead of blanket regulations, the FAA recommends a cooperative approach involving community groups, pilots and elected officials to come up with voluntary measures that are suited to local conditions.

Researchers noted that many of the problems are associated with landmarks or specific locations such as the Hollywood Bowl, Griffith Park, the Hollywood sign, Getty Center, airports and highways. According to the study, solutions designed for each site would be more effective than broad regulations.

The report states that the FAA will explore possible changes to existing helicopter routes and whether those aircraft can fly higher over neighborhoods that have been identified as trouble spots.

The agency also will look into hovering practices, developing a comprehensive complaint system for residents and stepping up efforts to alert pilots to new guidelines and areas to avoid.

Larry Welk, president of the Professional Helicopter Pilots Assn., said the organization agrees with the FAA report, adding that some measures are already used by helicopter operators, such as his firm, Angel City Air at Whiteman Airport in Pacoima. They include shorter hovering times, hovering at higher altitudes, avoiding hot spots and trying to respond better to residents’ complaints.

“No one in the helicopter community has said there’s no noise problem,” Welk said. “Contrary to the public’s perception, we are not a bunch of cowboys with utter disregard for those on the ground.”

Bob Anderson, a member of the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Assn. and the Los Angeles Area Helicopter Noise Coalition, said he supports the FAA’s goals, especially the complaint system for residents.

Anderson’s neighborhood has been buffeted by flights over the Sepulveda Pass, media choppers that monitor freeway traffic and helicopter operations at Van Nuys Airport, a base for many public safety aircraft.

“We have complex airspace and no one know this better than the FAA,” he said. “There’s definitely someplace for voluntary measures, but I also think there is a need for FAA regulation.”


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