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Federal report urges voluntary approach to helicopter issues

FAA report advising collaborative efforts rather than legislation to address low-flying choppers draws fire from Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank).

May 31, 2013|By Dan Weikel, Los Angeles Times
  • The report states that federal regulation governing helicopter flights would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to develop. Above, an LAPD helicopter hovers over Crenshaw Boulevard and the 10 Freeway in March.
The report states that federal regulation governing helicopter flights… (Luis Sinco, Los Angeles…)

A new federal report recommends taking a voluntary approach rather than government regulation to reduce the noise and safety risks of low-flying helicopters over neighborhoods across the Los Angeles Basin.

The study by the Federal Aviation Administration stems from requests by members of California's congressional delegation to address concerns about chopper flights over homes, businesses and landmarks, such as the Hollywood Bowl during performances.

The report immediately drew fire from Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank), who doubted the effectiveness of voluntary approaches and questioned the FAA's avoidance of regulatory action opposed by helicopter interests.

"Voluntary measures in the past have provided little relief for residents, and I am skeptical that without a determined effort to oversee them by the FAA that they will do so now," said Schiff, who has cosponsored legislation that would require the agency to regulate helicopter flights in Los Angeles County.

Schiff is scheduled to hold a public hearing June 10 in Los Angeles to address the study.

Given the complexity of the region's airspace and enormous volume of aircraft, the report states that federal regulation governing helicopter flights would be extremely difficult — if not impossible — to develop. Changing altitudes or routes, for example, might push helicopters into flight paths used by faster airplanes — a potential hazard.

Instead of blanket regulations, the FAA recommends a collaborative effort involving community groups, pilots and elected officials to come up with guidelines.

Researchers noted that many of the problems are associated with landmarks or specific locations such as the Hollywood Bowl, Griffith Park, the Hollywood sign, Getty Center, airports and highways. According to the study, solutions designed for each site would be effective.

The report states that the FAA will explore possible changes to existing helicopter routes and whether those aircraft can fly higher over neighborhoods that have been identified as trouble spots.

The agency also will look into hovering practices, developing a comprehensive complaint system for residents and stepping up efforts to alert pilots to new guidelines and areas to avoid.

Larry Welk, president of the Professional Helicopter Pilots Assn., said the organization agrees with the FAA report, adding that some measures are already used by helicopter operators. They include shorter hovering times, hovering at higher altitudes, avoiding hot spots and trying to better respond to residents' complaints.

"No one in the helicopter community has said there's no noise problem," Welk said. "Contrary to the public's perception, we are not a bunch of cowboys with utter disregard for those on the ground."

dan.weikel@latimes.com

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