The Los Angeles City Council, reacting to continuing complaints about helicopter noise at Los Angeles International Airport, has voted to ask the Federal Aviation Administration to require helicopters to fly above 2,000 feet while traveling near the airport. A 1,500-foot limit has been in effect for two years.
The action Tuesday made Los Angeles the fifth city surrounding the airport to ask for a higher altitude limit. Culver City, El Segundo, Hawthorne and Inglewood have asked for a 2,000-foot limit, citing a sharp increase in helicopter traffic since Los Angeles played host to the 1984 Olympic Games.
"Homeowners who live near the airport are concerned about the noise, and one of the perpetrators, they feel, are helicopters flying at relatively low altitudes," said Bernie Evans, chief deputy for Los Angeles Councilwoman Joan Milke Flores, who introduced the measure along with council President Pat Russell.
"We don't have authority over the flight limits," Evans said. "The FAA controls the skies. All we can do is put pressure on the FAA."
New Limit Expected
Jim Holtsclaw, an FAA air traffic manager for Los Angeles, said the agency is addressing the issue and is expected to set new altitude restrictions for helicopters by April. He said the issue is unrelated to air-traffic safety at the airport, where planes are channeled through a flight corridor at 2,500 to 5,000 feet.
"The only reason we're talking about altitude is to get the noise off the ground," Holtsclaw said.
Helicopter noise has drawn increasing criticism from homeowners for three years. In 1983, according to Holtsclaw, about 50 helicopters a day entered the skies above the airport. During the Olympics, that number jumped to 400 and has remained relatively high ever since.
"We now control 150 helicopters a day," Holtsclaw said of the airport. "One-third of those land here, one third of those depart from here, and one third . . . never use" the airport.
Altitude Raised in 1984
The increase prompted FAA officials to raise the minimum flight level to 1,500 feet from 1,000 shortly after the Olympics, Holtsclaw said. A 14-member committee of homeowners and representatives of the helicopter industry is evaluating the limits and is scheduled to present its findings in December.
Holtsclaw said the only safety concern is to keep helicopters away from flight corridors for commercial airplanes. Possible changes in the altitude limit are not expected to affect air-traffic safety, he said.
FAA Regional Director Homer (Mac) McClure is expected to set an altitude limit in April after considering recommendations of committee members and surrounding cities and conferring with Los Angeles airport commissioners appointed by Mayor Tom Bradley, Holtsclaw said.