Turning down the volume

Schiff’s bill makes the FAA and Department of Transportation responsible for reducing helicopter noise in LA County

By Justin Chapman, Pasadena Weekly, 1/23/2014

Recently approved legislation introduced by Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff calls on US Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and the Federal Aviation Administration to come up with a plan to curb what Schiff calls “disruptive helicopter noise” throughout LA County. 
However, Schiff’s bill specifically exempts helicopter operations related to law enforcement, one of the biggest contributors to the types of noise that most residents complain about, as well as emergency and military operations, but not news media.
Members of Pasadena DMZ, a citizen’s group that advocates for regulation and public oversight of helicopters, were not entirely satisfied.
“We are definitely suffering from the lack of oversight of helicopters of all types,” said Pasadena DMZ member Jenny Durling. “Here in Pasadena, we are particularly disturbed by police helicopters as they are used as a first response to everything.”
Schiff’s Los Angeles Residential Helicopter Noise Relief Act was slightly amended before being approved by both houses of Congress last week as part of a yearlong $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill. The main difference is that the revised act would require the FAA to begin work on regulating helicopters to reduce noise impacts in LA County, where the funding bill allows the FAA a chance to complete its own recommendations and prove their effectiveness prior to imposing regulations. The FAA and the Secretary of Transportation have up to a year to set regulations relating to flight paths and altitudes for helicopter flights.
In May, Schiff hosted a roundtable with homeowners and representatives of public safety agencies to explore voluntary measures that law enforcement agencies could undertake to reduce noise in nonemergency situations.
“There is little doubt that police, first responders and other public safety helicopters comprise a portion of helicopter noise in residential communities across Los Angeles County, and while these agencies of necessity are excluded from the bill, we will be working with them to reduce their contribution to the noise when doing so would not compromise their vital operations,” Schiff wrote at the time. “These agencies can contribute to the solution as well, and it’s my hope that today’s roundtable will be the first of many steps to help homeowners across Los Angeles get a little peace and quiet from helicopter noise.”
A portion of Schiff’s bill states: “The Secretary shall (1) evaluate and adjust existing helicopter routes above Los Angeles, and make adjustments to such routes if the adjustments would lessen impacts on residential areas and noise-sensitive landmarks; (2) analyze whether helicopters could safely fly at higher altitudes in certain areas above Los Angeles County; (3) develop and promote best practices for helicopter hovering and electronic news gathering; (4) conduct outreach to helicopter pilots to inform them of voluntary policies and to increase awareness of noise sensitive areas and events; (5) work with local stakeholders to develop a more comprehensive noise complaint system; and (6) continue to participate in collaborative engagement between community representatives and helicopter operators: Provided, that not later than one year after enactment of this act, the secretary shall begin the development of regulations related to the impact of helicopter use on the quality of life and safety of the people of Los Angeles County unless the secretary can demonstrate the effectiveness of actions taken under the previous proviso to address helicopter noise.”
“After years of pushing,” Schiff said in a statement issued shortly after the House vote, “residents should finally begin to see some relief from unnecessary helicopter noise. This legislation will hold the FAA’s feet to the fire and ensure that they are making every effort to reduce helicopter noise. Now, the FAA will have one year to act on its pledge to reduce helicopter noise through voluntary measures, or be forced to put in place real rules to provide relief to homeowners.”
Durling said Schiff’s measure falls short of solving the problem.
“A number of citizens, myself included, have reached out to the Pasadena Police Department, the mayor and the safety committee, but our issues continue to fall on deaf ears. The noise pollution from these aircraft is horrific and someone needs to put limits on flight patterns, heights and time spent circling over residential areas,” Durling said.
“Without including the police,” said Pasadena DMZ member Daniel Molitor, “the discussion is pointless.”