WASHINGTON -- With the proposed Los Angeles Residential Helicopter Noise Relief Act unable to get off the ground in Congress, a group of lawmakers is turning to Plan B to try to nudge the Federal Aviation Administration to act more aggressively to reduce helicopter noise.
Five Los Angeles-area lawmakers are seeking to attach language to a spending bill that would direct the FAA, within a year after the measure's passage, to begin writing rules to reduce helicopter noise unless it can show that voluntary noise-reduction efforts are working.
The congressmen, all Democrats, call annoying chopper noise "an issue of great importance to our constituents'' in a letter to Rep. Tom Latham of Iowa, the Republican chairman of the House transportation appropriations subcommittee. They asked him to include the language in a transportation appropriations bill, expected to be wrapped into an omnibus spending measure that would go before Congress early next year.
Getting the anti-noise language in the bill would seem a long shot given Republican wariness to increased federal regulation.
The House in 2011 rejected an effort by San Fernando Valley lawmakers to give Burbank's Bob Hope Airport and the Van Nuys Airport authority to impose nighttime curfews. Additionally, the proposed Los Angeles Residential Helicopter Noise Relief Act, which would require the FAA to draw up rules to reduce helicopter noise, has languished in the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
But Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) said the new effort is worth trying, noting that he and his colleagues have a "powerful ally'' in Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee. She put similar language in a proposed Senate transportation spending bill earlier this year. That bill never made it out of the Senate, but Feinstein is expected to continue to push to include it in a new version of the transportation spending bill.
"I would hope that we have a shot at it,'' Schiff said in an interview Friday. "It is an approach that gives the voluntary efforts a chance to succeed."
He noted that the FAA has already regulated helicopter noise over Long Island. "So there is a precedent,'' he said. "And there may be a groundswell for calls for this in other parts of the country too.''
An FAA study earlier this year recommended a voluntary approach rather than government regulation to reduce helicopter noise, citing the complexity of the region's airspace and the high number of aircraft involved. FAA officials say they are working with homeowner groups, pilots and others to try to come up with ways to reduce noise, and expect to deliver a progress report in January.
"Residents of the Los Angeles region have been plagued for decades by frequent and disruptive helicopter noise,'' Schiff and fellow Reps. Brad Sherman of Sherman Oaks, Henry Waxman and Tony Cardenas, both of Los Angeles, and Alan Lowenthal of Long Beach said in a letter to Latham and the subcommittee's top Democrat, Ed Pastor of Arizona.
"Despite persistent efforts to work on a collaborative basis with stakeholders to reduce the impact of helicopter noise, little has changed,'' the letter said.
Schiff said he and his colleagues are willing to give voluntary efforts a chance but that he's skeptical they will work.
"Patience is running out,'' he said. "There's no relief yet.''
The language the L.A.-area lawmakers are seeking to include in the bill also would direct the secretary of Transportation to adjust helicopter routes if they would reduce noise over Los Angeles neighborhoods, develop and promote "best practices for helicopter hovering and electronic news gathering; conduct outreach to helicopter pilots to inform them of voluntary policies;'' increase awareness of noise-sensitive areas and events; and work with local groups to develop a more comprehensive noise complaint system.