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New push to deal with L.A. helicopter noise

May 23, 2012 | 12:04 pm

Helicopter

Unable to get their "Los Angeles Residential Helicopter Noise Relief Act" off the ground, the bill’s sponsors are implementing a Plan B to nudge federal officials, at the very least, to study ways to address neighborhood complaints about helicopter noise. 

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) has inserted language into a Senate Appropriations Committee report that would direct the Federal Aviation Administration to explore possible solutions with neighborhood groups and helicopter operators. Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-Valley Village) has appealed to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to get the FAA to address the issue "expeditiously."

They need a Plan B  because their bills to require the FAA to impose restrictions on helicopter operations in Los Angeles have languished in Congress in the face of industry opposition.

The FAA is considering restrictions on helicopter altitudes and flight paths over Long Island, N.Y., in response to neighborhood complaints about noise, especially from helicopters ferrying passengers from the city to the Hamptons.  

But Feinstein said the language inserted into the appropriations committee report may be "the best that can be done" at the moment.

Legislation to restrict helicopter operations is likely to face resistance in the House, controlled by regulatory-wary Republicans who last year rejected an effort by San Fernando Valley lawmakers to give Burbank's Bob Hope Airport and Van Nuys Airport authority to impose nighttime curfews.

The committee report, attached to a bill funding the Department of Transportation, directs the  FAA to solicit the views of neighborhood groups, helicopter operators and others on helicopter noise and safety issues in Los Angeles County within 90 days of the bill’s enactment.  The bill still must be approved by the Senate.

The FAA is to evaluate  helicopter routes, operating altitudes, and hovering practices and report back to Congress on possible solutions to noise complaints within a year. Potential solutions should not restrict helicopter operations for emergency responders and the military, the directive says.

Matt Zuccaro, president of Helicopter Assn. International, a Virginia-based trade group, said that while his group opposes "shoot-from-the-hip" legislation,  it welcomes a "balanced study."

"I’m 100% in favor of working with the community," added Larry Welk, president of the Professional Helicopter Pilots Assn., which represents about 300 Southern California pilots. "I’m 100% opposed to a bill without a study of the problem."

The FAA also appears receptive to a study. Its acting administrator, Michael P. Huerta, said in a recent letter to Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) that the agency is "very much aware of the Los Angeles community’s concerns with helicopter noise" and is "prepared to commit to work" with community groups and helicopter operators to explore solutions.

Berman, locked in a tough reelection battle with fellow Democrat Rep. Brad Sherman in a redrawn San Fernando Valley district, sent a letter to LaHood on Wednesday signed by co-sponsors of his bill, Sherman and Democratic Reps. Adam Schiff of Burbank, Henry Waxman of Beverly Hill and Janice Hahn of San Pedro. The letter, also signed by Feinstein and Boxer, asks LaHood to direct the  FAA to "hear first-hand from our constituents their concerns and solutions to the helicopter noise problem in the Los Angeles area."

Berman, who also spoke to LaHood, said in a statement that the  transportation secretary "understands the helicopter noise and safety concerns that so many of my constituents have raised with me, and that he and the FAA will work with Valley residents in a constructive way to help better identify solutions to these problems."

"I won’t allow the issue of helicopter noise to be studied to death," Berman said, adding that his request for a study is "not meant to be a substitute for further action."

Berman introduced his bill last year after helicopters offered charter flights to view "Carmageddon," the traffic disaster that wasn't from the weekend shutdown of a section of the 405 Freeway last summer. 

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--Richard Simon in Washington

Photo: An LAPD helicopter takes off from the 210 Freeway. Credit: Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times

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