Recent news stories have focused on two bills just introduced in Congress aimed at reducing helicopter noise in Los Angeles County. The bills, one in the Senate (S. 208) and one in the House of Representatives (H.R. 456), would direct the Federal Aviation Administration to issue regulations governing helicopter flight altitudes.
Most of the media attention has focused on noise in the San Fernando Valley and West Los Angeles. However, helicopter noise is a big problem in the South Bay. Torrance Airport has changed in recent years. Now, a high percentage of its flights are helicopters. The public was never given any notice before helicopter routes were established over their neighborhoods or before Robinson Helicopter, based at Torrance Airport, was allowed to expand and increase its test and training flights without any consideration being given to mitigating their environmental impacts.
Now, the South Bay has tens of thousands of helicopter flights each year over otherwise quiet residential areas. They disrupt the quality of our lives and raise safety concerns.
Over three years ago, citizens submitted a petition to the Torrance City Council asking for help in reducing helicopter noise associated with their Airport. Since then, at least 15 public meetings have been held to discuss the problem, but no changes have been made. In June 2012, representatives of the Federal Aviation Administration made an offer to the City of Torrance to test better arrival/departure routes for helicopters. But, it has been over seven months and there has been no response from the City.
The Federal Aviation Administration does not regulate helicopter flight altitudes like they do fixed wing planes, which are required to fly at least 1000 feet above ground level. Instead, helicopter pilots fly as low as they want. For noise abatement, the FAA “advises” pilots to fly 2000 feet or more above ground level when flying over noise sensitive residential areas. However, since it’s only “advisory,” pilots don’t have to comply—and they don’t.
The helicopter industry’s own noise abatement program suggests that pilots “fly higher” to reduce noise on the ground. But, again, it’s voluntary, and it’s largely ignored by pilots.
Helicopters cast a wide noise footprint. A single helicopter flight from Torrance Airport around the Palos Verdes Peninsula coastline and back to the airport (a distance of about 25 miles) can negatively impact many hundreds of households on the ground. Moreover, it’s not uncommon for there to be as many as 20-25 such flights in a single day.
Last year seven South Bay city councils—including Redondo Beach, Hermosa Beach, Palos Verdes Estates, Rancho Palos Verdes, Rolling Hills Estates, Lomita, and Los Angeles—voted to support federal legislation to reduce helicopter noise. The County Board of Supervisors, the State Senate, and the State Assembly also voted to support it.
It’s time for the Federal Aviation Administration to require minimum flight altitudes for helicopters. That’s what the proposed Congressional Bills ask the FAA to do and it makes sense.
Citizens should contact members of Congress to let them know they support these Bills. If you want more information, updates, or to find out what you can do to help, contact Citizens for Quiet Helicopters at helicopternoise.com.