FAA defends stance on helicopter noise solutions at congressional hearing

…here is a copy of a 6/11/13 article, by Dakota Smith at DailyNews.com…

By Dakota Smith, Staff Writer (dakota.smith@dailynews.com)

A senior official at the Federal Aviation Administration defended the agency’s decision to support voluntary solutions rather than legislative ones to ease helicopter noise complaints in Los Angeles County at a congressional field hearing Monday night.

David Suomi, acting regional administrator of the FAA’s Western Pacific Region, told attendees gathered at the Autry National Center that his agency supports asking pilots to fly at higher altitudes and working with homeowners to identify problem areas.

But given the region’s congested skies, the FAA is wary of sweeping new legislation to make mandatory changes in the rules governing Los Angeles County airspace, he said.

Neighbors’ complaints about the constant buzz of helicopters have prompted proposed congressional legislation, such as the Los Angeles Residential Helicopter Noise Relief Act, which would regulate flight paths and altitudes for helicopter flights in Los Angeles County.

Suomi said Monday the legislation process would be lengthy.

“When you start getting into rule making, it gets dragged out,” Suomi said in an interview after the hearing. “It goes on for a long time. We can provide relief much quicker through a voluntary system.”

The hearing drew a crowd of several hundred, including residents who live near the Hollywood Bowl and the Hollywood Sign, as well as those under helicopter flight testing routes near Torrance.

Suomi’s comments at Monday’s hearing were in line with a new FAA report on local helicopter patterns, a 56-page document released last month that concluded Los Angeles County’s “extremely complex and high-volume air traffic,” its varying topography and dense population of more than 10 million are daunting barriers to regulation.

During a panel discussion, helicopter industry representatives also sided with the FAA in opposing legislation, saying they preferred solutions like a telephone hotline to monitor complaints.

Reps. Adam Schiff, D-Burbank, who introduced the Helicopter Noise Relief Act, Tony Cardenas, D-Arleta, and Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky also attended the panel discussion.

The FAA gave no timeline on how long it would take to talk to stakeholders and identify problem areas, which caused some concern for Schiff. But he added that it was important to let the FAA try to address the issue.

“While L.A. airspace is very complex, one of the things that we established tonight is that you don’t have to have a one-size-fits-all solution,” Schiff said. The next steps would involve identifying “those areas where helicopters can fly higher, and where we can put restrictions on hovering, and where we can establish flight paths that are more considerate of homeowners.”

Hollywood Hills resident Jodi Ehrlich testified during the public comment period, describing a recent incident in which news copters hovered for hours above a broken water main near her house in the middle of the night. News helicopters should be restricted to operating only at certain times of the day, she suggested.

“Who at 2 in the morning is (watching TV), looking at a DWP leak?” she asked.