Burb's Eye View: Copter noise propels a call for relief

If you want to know how bad the helicopter noise gets in Burbank, ask a horse.

Residents in the Rancho neighborhood around the L.A. Equestrian Center are accustomed to the thwap-thwapping of the choppers that zip along the Ventura (134) Freeway on their way to wherever. In the eight months I lived near Pickwick Gardens, the window-rattling gong of the helicopter shook me to sleep and shook me awake.

My former neighbors and I should all get over ourselves, some may say. One person did say as much in a letter to this newspaper last June.

Others took the complaints more seriously. Rep. Adam Schiff worked with Valley residents for the better part of the last year to at least elevate the noise conversation to a level where something might be done. Last month, it was added to a $1-trillion spending bill and signed into law.

The law gives the Federal Aviation Administration a year to meet with helicopter pilots — who may be tour operators, news crews, the occasional real estate agent — and work out a way for them to fly above and away from residential neighborhoods. Some of these conversations have already taken place, but offered limited results.

“We’ve been dissatisfied with the pace of that progress,” Schiff told me last week. “Homeowners haven’t seen any meaningful reduction in helicopter noise.”

The headline is enticing. It took an act of Congress, but helicopter noise relief is on its way.

Except it isn’t entirely.

Law enforcement is exempt. In places like L.A. near the Hollywood sign or the Hollywood Bowl, emergency responders may only represent a small portion of the overall amount of airborne traffic. In Burbank, however, much of that helicopter traffic is from law enforcement.

To curb its presence in the skies, the Burbank Police Department has outfitted its fleet with choppers that have no tail rotors. These cut down on noise while they keep an eye out for suspects on foot, or seek out a fleeing motorist, or zone in on a burglary in progress.

“We know how our residents are. They don’t want to have helicopters circling their neighborhood,” said Sgt. Darin Ryburn of the Burbank Police Department. He said the Burbank fleet is much quieter than the tail rotor-equipped birds of the LAPD — which happen to swing through the 134 Freeway behind the equestrian district.

“They’re annoying. They’re very loud,” he said.

Officer Steve Conaway, one of the Burbank police pilots, said his team generally follows the Golden State (5) Freeway when responding to a crime in Glendale, which shares three helicopters with Burbank. Even then, they try not to make the same route twice.

“We have a job to do and, unfortunately, the helicopters do make noise. We do try to fly higher to minimize our noise impact on the ground,” Conaway said.

Regulation of helicopters has eluded the FAA so far, and any talk of it flusters private helicopter operators who say they’re doing everything they can to police themselves. If that’s not enough, too bad for you, neighbors.

“If you live in the city and don't like this technology, should I play my violin, do you need to move, or do you need some education?” wrote Mike Hampson, founder of the Helicopter Links website, in the Leader last year.

If the conversations with the FAA work, news helicopters could start sharing coverage of a car crash on the 134 Freeway and tour helicopters may hover higher above Miley Cyrus’ house.

If not, the FAA may finally have to start mandating flight paths and hover times.

“If they can’t prove they’ve actually improved the situation on the ground, then we want them to step in and enact certain requirements that will bring relief,” Schiff said.


BRYAN MAHONEY is a recent transplant from the East Coast. He can be reached at 818NewGuy@gmail.com and on Twitter: @818NewGuy.

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