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Valley Perspective

Airport Restrictions Should Fly

New noise-abatement steps would be neighborly at Van Nuys

March 23, 1997

Ever been roused from a deep, nighttime sleep by the sound of a hovering helicopter or the mechanical whine of a jet engine? The people who live around Van Nuys Airport, or those in its flight path, report those kinds of rude awakenings almost nightly. That's why the Los Angeles Airport Commission's support last week of a strategy to cut noise from Van Nuys is a good step toward making the airport a better neighbor.

The biggest snags: Convincing the Federal Aviation Administration to support the new restrictions and then backing them up with tough enforcement. Both are problematic. Traditionally, FAA administrators have been more concerned with maintaining smooth flight operations than addressing the noise worries of neighbors. That has to change. So does the city's enforcement. In the past, some pilots simply ignored the city fines for curfew violations. Tougher standards deserve tougher enforcement.

The standards are tough. The commission reiterated its support for extending the airport's nighttime flight curfew--now in effect between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m.--so that it curtails flights between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. In addition, the commission recommended preventing an increase in the number of more noisy jets flying out of the field. Finally, and most dramatically, the commission also recommended applying the new curfew to helicopters, which begin flying out of Van Nuys as early as 4:30 a.m.

FAA officials have objected to extending the curfew and capping the number of jets because the changes might impede interstate air traffic. But city lawyers believe they have crafted arguments that will persuade the FAA to reconsider. And reconsider it should. As the busiest general aviation airport in the world, the Van Nuys facility is an asset to the San Fernando Valley and the city as a whole. But it is also a noisy neighbor. Trimming a flying hour at the end of the day and limiting the number of the loudest jets are modest steps to keep the airport a good neighbor.

However, the portion of the commission's plan most appealing to airport critics is also the most difficult to pass and enforce. Many of the helicopters belong to media organizations and traffic reporting services, which may need to take to the sky at a moment's notice. The curfew exempts emergency flights, but media flights are hardly emergencies. Should news pilots be forced to pay a fine to cover a story for the 11 o'clock news? Or should traffic reporters be grounded until well into morning rush hour?

We endorse the proposed rules for jet aircraft. But the proposals for news and traffic helicopters may be too severe. While 4:30 a.m. flights are a nuisance, and unnecessary at this airport, now is the time for the parties to show some flexibility on flight curbs for news and traffic copters. Perhaps a 6 a.m. to midnight rule would work.

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