In a report assessing strict helicopter guidelines put into place last December, Los Angeles International Airport officials say the worst of the helicopter noise that once shattered the nerves of Westchester residents is over.
But not all residents share the optimism of airport officials, and in the words of resident Ed Paul, "with 18 new heliports on the books for Los Angeles, this may just be the calm before the storm."
The guidelines were the result of a months-long effort by Paul and other Westchester residents who banded together last summer to force aviation officials to curtail the low-flying helicopters that residents said endangered their homes and health.
Peaking during the 1984 Summer Olympics, helicopter traffic over Westchester sometimes averaged 400 flights daily. Since then, traffic has dropped to about 125 flights a day.
Low Flights Cited
Before December, neither the Federal Aviation Administration nor the city Department of Airports assumed responsibility for regulating the aircraft. In extensive meetings with aviation officials, Westchester residents said they frequently saw helicopters flying above the community at less than 300 feet.
The guidelines included a ban on unscheduled nighttime helicopter flights, minimum altitudes of 1,500 feet during the day and 2,000 feet at night, a reduction in flights over beach areas and highly visible numbers on each helicopter to identify low-flying offenders. In addition, the Department of Airports in January closed its east heliport, which reduced its helicopter capacity by about one third.
While the guidelines are considered voluntary, the FAA in December renegotiated its "letters of agreement" with helicopter pilots who use the airport to include the regulations, and the Department of Airports said it would revoke the airport privileges of pilots who violated the agreement.
Letters of Agreement
"We have pretty well done what we set out to do," said airport general manager Bob Quincey at Wednesday's Board of Airport Commissioners' meeting. "About 65 helicopter operators have signed letters of agreement saying that they would adhere to our guidelines. We have not had trouble with anyone who signed that letter of agreement."
Quincey said the number of complaints fell to 18 in February from a high of 97 in November.
"There was a little slippage with a couple of new operators," Quincey said, "but the system we pulled together quickly identified them and they have been pulled into the (Federal Aviation Administration) to sign letters of agreement."
Quincey said that the FAA has held back on only one guideline--which would have required night-flying helicopters to use the same over-the-ocean approach used by planes--because of safety considerations.
"We have to make sure there is no possibility of danger in routing helicopters over the ocean at night," he said. "That is something the FAA is still looking at."
In addition, Quincey said, the airport is initiating a 90-day study to determine the level of helicopter noise being generated. He said a committee will be formed to study alternatives to the heavily used Sepulveda Corridor, as the route above Sepulveda Boulevard is called.
Based on the results of the 90-day study, he said, the airport may look at raising minimum daytime flight altitudes to 2,000 feet and installing permanent helicopter noise monitoring stations in Westchester.
But for Paul and other members of the Chopper Stopper group, elimination of the Sepulveda Corridor is the only sure prospect of permanent relief.
"It's certainly true that there has been some improvement compared to the worst of times," Paul said, "but we still have to rely on the voluntary adherence of helicopter pilots to these guidelines. The helicopters still pose a noise problem, and the potential for mid-air collisions or crashes in our community still exist.