In a move welcomed by operators and anti-noise activists alike, the FAA is preparing to launch by early spring a system to capture helicopter noise complaints involving flights over the Los Angeles basin. The system would mark the first time the noise problem over the region is fully evaluated, said HAI president and CEO Matt Zuccaro, adding it will help the FAA to take a more measured approach to tackling the issue.
The FAA had long been under local fire for not taking more aggressive action to curb operations. Driven by community anti-noise activists, lawmakers have pushed for the agency to issue a rulemaking to ban and/or limit operations at certain altitudes in certain areas of Los Angeles.
But the FAA has resisted, believing that a collaborative approach involving both the community and operators would address concerns much more quickly. The agency also has expressed safety concerns, given the complexity of the airspace in the region. Not satisfied with that approach, lawmakers included a measure in aFiscal Year 2014 appropriations bill essentially calling on the FAA either to demonstrate that voluntary measures were working or to issue a rulemaking to impose restrictions.
To address the concerns and meet the congressional mandate, the agency agreed to set aside $250,000 for the noise-complaint system. “We have been working diligently on helicopter noise issues in Los Angeles for almost two years,” an FAA spokesman said, adding the system is part of that effort.
In late December the agency awarded a contract to Bruel & Kjaer to develop the system, which is expected to take into account reporting systems in place at area airports to provide a complete picture. Software development is expected to be completed within the next couple of months.
The system is expected to track the results of noise-abatement efforts as the FAA works with stakeholders to reach agreement on voluntary routes, procedures and memoranda of understanding with operators, according to the NBAA.
The FAA is continuing to meet with the operators and community, an agency spokesman said, noting it plans to report to Congress shortly on its progress in the area. Some fear that reaching an agreement might prove difficult with some residents seeking far-reaching curbs.
In the interim, though, the announced noise-complaint system has drawn praise from local lawmakers. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), who has asserted that voluntary measures are insufficient, said, “The establishment of a countrywide helicopter noise-complaint system could be a significant development in our years-long fight to giveL.A. residents the relief they deserve.” Schiff also called the system a necessary first step to gather data about the extent of the problem and potential remedies.
While the system was designed as a venue for complaints, operators welcome the opportunity to gather noise data. Zuccaro said political pressure has created an environment of “regulation by legislation” without data backing up the need for changes. “It’s a dangerous precedent,” he added, saying that changing routes without conducting a full study could compromise safety.
This is particularly true in Southern California. “You couldn’t pick a more congested piece of airspace or a busier one,” Zuccaro said.
He added that the operators have a history of voluntarily working with the community to address concerns by adhering to self-imposed curfews and voluntary routes.