Helicopter Noise Bill Lands in Congress

Complaints about hovering helicopters in the San Fernando Valley prompted a lawmaker's bill

Residents' complaints about the sound of helicopters over their San Fernando Valley neighborhoods have led to a bill in Congress.

The Los Angeles Residential Helicopter Noise Relief Act landed in the House of Representatives. Rep. Howard Berman, D-Valley Village, introduced the bill Thursday.

It would require the Federal Aviation Administration to establish rules on flight paths and minimum altitudes for helicopters. Law enforcement, emergency responders and the U.S. military would be exempt.

Berman said helicopter traffic has become "ridiculous" in the San Fernando Valley. His 28th District includes the northern San Fernando Valley -- San Fernando, Pacoima, Arleta, Panorama City, Sylmar and North Hollywood.

The slapping noise created by helicopters is caused by blade-vortex interaction. As one rotating blade follows another, it strikes the wake left by the lead blade and generates a pulsating sound.

"Helicopters are hovering right above our homes at all hours of the morning and night," said Richard Close, President of the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Association. "It's the wild, wild West up there."

Larry Welk, president of the Professional Helicopter Pilots Association, said the legislation will not achieve its goal of noise reduction.

"There's a public perception that there's more helicopter traffic," said Welk. "That's just not true. There used to be six, seven traffic helicopters in the air. News stations that used to have two now have one, some have none. The fact is, this legislation exempts 70 percent of the helicopters that generate the noise."

The text of HR 2677 was not immediately available, but Berman told the Daily News his office has received complaints about tour operators, commercial charters and paparazzi. The billl also applies to news organizations' helicopters.

Welk suggested that communities work with organizations like the PHPA to resolve individual problems. The Hollywood Bowl, for example, worked with PHPA to install white strobe lights that warn pilots when they should not fly over the area.

The organization has a contact page on its website.

Both helicopters and airplanes have altitude regulations. Airplanes are required to fly at least 1,000 feet above the nearest obstacle over densely populated areas.

As for helicopters, there also are regulations in place that deal with safety. Helicopters must be operated so they do not create safety issues for people or property on the ground, according to the FAA.

"Safety is always the FAA's top priority, and we aggressively investigate allegations of unsafe aircraft operations by airplane and helicopter pilots," the FAA said in statement released Friday. "The FAA works with helicopter operators and community groups around the country to find ways for these aircraft to operate safely and with minimal community noise impacts."

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