New Helicopter Noise Legislation Draws Complaints
January 21, 2014
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  • Days after President Barack Obama signed long-awaited legislation attempting to reduce helicopter noise in Los Angeles County, groups on both sides of the issue expressed disappointment with the plan.

    Both a neighborhood group and a helicopter pilot association said the Los Angeles Residential Helicopter Noise Relief Act was redundant, though for different reasons.

    “It’s no relief for us,” said John Bailey, whose Los Angeles Area Helicopter Noise Coalition represents residents.

    Longtime chopper pilot Larry Welk, a member of a helicopter pilots’ group, called the law “arbitrary legislation.”

    The criticism underscores the difficulties in appeasing all sides in the debate over helicopter noise, which rankles residents from Sherman Oaks to Torrance.

    The legislation by Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Burbank, was attached to the federal budget bill approved by the House and Senate last week and signed by Obama on Friday. It directs the Federal Aviation Administration to look at a variety of ways to reduce helicopter noise in Los Angeles, including mapping new routes to avoid homes, looking at flying at higher altitudes, re-evaluating news-gathering techniques, and developing a complaint system.

    If those measures fail, the FAA must create new helicopter noise and safety guidelines within a year, the legislation states.

    Torrance resident Bailey believes voluntary measures have already proven ineffective. He wants new laws passed immediately, such as restricting the height at which helicopters can fly over neighborhoods. He blamed the FAA for not backing such action.

    “We would have liked to have seen the FAA walk the walk and talk the talk,” said Bailey.

    Welk noted the legislation exempts police and fire helicopters, which also draw many noise complaints. Welk also said the legislation is unnecessary because the helicopter industry and community groups are already seeking solutions.

    Schiff said the legislation gives the FAA a clear timeline.

    “The FAA will now have to regulate helicopter noise, so I think it’s an equivocal win,” Schiff said in a telephone interview from Washington, D.C. He added that he remains skeptical voluntary measures would work.

    An FAA report released last year cited L.A. County’s busy air-traffic, varying topography and dense population as barriers to regulation. The report recommended voluntary measures, rather than legislative ones.

    In a statement Monday, the FAA said the agency’s ongoing dialogue with community representatives and operators will “allow the FAA to refine, prioritize and target our efforts.” The FAA said it is also is looking at ways to identify which helicopters are operated by law enforcement to deal with those complaints.

    Richard Close, president of the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Association, said the bill represents a first step. The Sherman Oaks neighborhood galvanized after the 2011 “Carmageddon,” when news helicopters hovered for hours above the closed-off 405 Freeway, angering locals.

    “Is it perfect? No,” Close said. “But it’s a lot better than we have now and it will lead to permanent solutions.”