FAA to attend public meeting on how to silence LA's noisy helicopters

LAPD helicopter pilot Kevin Cook exits the helipad after a three-hour shift in the skies above Los Angeles.
LAPD helicopter pilot Kevin Cook exits the helipad after a three-hour shift in the skies above Los Angeles.
Grant Slater/KPCC
LAPD helicopter pilot Kevin Cook exits the helipad after a three-hour shift in the skies above Los Angeles.
A police helicopter takes off from the Los Angeles Police Department helipad in Downtown. During the day, there is always one helicopter in the air patrolling the city skies.
Grant Slater/KPCC

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Los Angeles residents seeking to muffle chopper noise will gather again tonight to ask the Federal Aviation Administration why it decided not to impose regulations on helicopters.

A public hearing is scheduled for 7 p.m. this evening at a Griffith Park theater. Representatives from the FAA will summarize its report released last week on recommendations to help quell helicopter noise.

After the summary, panels of local politicians, residents and pilots will get to ask the FAA representatives questions about the report.

It’s not likely to be a "kumbaya" meeting. Many residents weren’t happy that the FAA decided against proposing regulations.

Instead the report states: “The most satisfactory and widely accepted noise abatement measures are those that have been collectively discussed by engaged stakeholders and the FAA at the local level.”

The FAA report suggests the community and pilots work together to solve the problem. One example of that is to evaluate existing helicopter routes over the Hollywood Sign, Griffith Park and other popular L.A. landmarks to work out a voluntary plan for different chopper routes or higher altitudes. But no mandatory rules.

The FAA report said blanket helicopter regulations in Los Angeles County would be “difficult, if not impossible, to develop” and enforce because of the area’s complex geography, climate and already crowded air space. There are 27 airports and 138 registered heliports.

“They (the FAA) just threw up their hands and said it was too hard to enforce regulations,” said Dave Garfinkle, president of the Tarzana Property Owners Association.

But Garfinkle likes one recommendation in the report:

Explore a more comprehensive noise complaint system. A centralized system that provides a single repository for helicopter noise complaints in Los Angeles County may be more advantageous than current individual systems, with differing geographic and jurisdictional coverage. The FAA will support the assessment of the prospects for developing such a system with homeowners’ associations and operator groups.

"What we would do is to compile all of these reports, and then we would be able to identify hotspots,” Garfinkle said.

He’s not happy that the FAA report suggests that local homeowners’ associations and helicopter operator groups do it; he’s not sure there will be enough resources and teeth to it.

It’s unlikely that hard-and-fast federal regulations to mute helicopter noise in Los Angeles will come soon. Regulation and rulemaking changes have to go through a lengthy evaluation and must be posted in the Federal Registry for public comment.

That hasn't happened. The FAA report suggests that a noise abatement pilot program in Torrance is the preferred option.

The report says a local helicopter noise committee at the Zamperini Field in Torrance will test two modified routes to cut back on helicopter noise in the area.

The Zamperini Field is home to Robinson Helicopter, the largest manufacturer of civil helicopters in North America. It conducts frequent test flights—and earns plenty of scorn from residents over noise.

“The FAA will test these new routes for 180 days, during time which the City of Torrance will evaluate noise issues,” the report states.

Some residents sick of chopper noise say they’re pushing instead for legislation from Congress that will direct the FAA to consider mandatory helicopter regulations.