A Southern California group has graduated from seeking voluntary helicopter noise abatement procedures to petitioning for regulations from the FAA.
Starting in October, the Los Angeles Area Helicopter Noise Coalition filed four petitions of rulemaking requesting that the FAA enact new Special Federal Aviation Regulations (SFARs) for Los Angeles County. The petitions would set minimum altitudes for non-emergency flights, distances at which coastal flights must remain from shore and maximum loitering times over land. They would also require news helicopter organizations to pool coverage.
According to a coalition founder, Bob Anderson, that group has held more than 50 meetings since 2008 to agree on voluntary noise abatement measures with local rotorcraft businesses. But he said those businesses have been largely uncooperative. “Legislation was put in about a year ago that said if no significant progress was made by January 2015, the FAA should start making laws,” said Anderson. He believes that time has come.
Nearby Robinson Helicopter Co. is a notable target of the coalition’s frustrations—it builds six to seven helicopters each week, putting four flight hours into each prior to its sale, and conducts weekly factory courses culminating in each student flying briefly with an instructor. But a company official said that Robinson well exceeds letters of agreement with the City of Torrance to keep flights above 900 ft, and typically conducts its flights on weekdays between 7 a.m. and 4 p.m. local time, and between 1,500 and 2,000 ft.
This official said the coalition’s rules might limit a helicopter pilot’s ability to fly safely. One of four proposed SFARs would limit non-emergency helicopter flights to altitudes at or above 2,000 ft agl, calling into question the FAA’s existing charted helicopter routes that prescribe lower altitudes to avoid the flow of airline traffic in Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) airspace. Also, many factors, such as winds and visibility, could cause pilots to deviate below the proposed 2,000 ft when necessary for safety of flight.
Anderson said the petitions take into account—and do not threaten—charted routes, nor do they supersede a pilot’s authority to fly safely. “We do understand the situations around airports and other areas, and included provisions for them,” he said. “We are not trying to get pilots to fly unsafely or illegally, or circumvent existing route structure near airports.” Rather, he said, he wants to enforce more consistent adherence to those routes.