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FAA offers suggestions to reduce L.A.'s helicopter noise, but no new regulations

LAPD Helicopter

Grant Slater/KPCC

Los Angeles police officer Greg MacDonald surveys the streets of West Hollywood during a call about a disturbance at a hospital below.

A report released Friday by the Federal Aviation Administration provided suggestions for reducing helicopter noise in L.A. County but stopped short of issuing any hard and fast rules.

According to the report, Southern California has one of the most complex, congested air spaces in the world. L.A. County alone has 27 airports, 138 registered helipads, and "numerous" unregistered heliports, from which aircraft are constantly taking off and landing. 

Over a six-month period, the FAA took complaints and attended public hearings on helicopters around the county. It received more than 500 comments about disrupted sleep, family gatherings ruined by noise, and neighborhoods where the buzz of helicopter blades is constant. 

Complaints from the public included: the Hollywood sign, a frequent destination for tour choppers; the Hollywood Bowl, which choppers sometimes buzz during shows; the Getty Center; and Griffith Park.

RELATED: For more about noise and helicopters, read KPCC's series on LAPD's helicopters.

Commenters also pointed to a number of media-hyped events as evidence of L.A.'s out-of-control chopper culture. According to the report: "during Carmageddon I primary issues were with continuous early morning (4 a.m.) and late night operations to provide coverage of what turned out to be a non-event."

To clean up the skies, the FAA offered a number of suggestions:

  • Evaluate and modify existing helicopter routes to see if they could safely travel over less inhabited terrain. 
  • Research whether helicopters might safely travel at higher altitudes.
  • Develop voluntary best practices for hovering and news-gathering.
  • Do outreach to helicopter pilots to make them aware of community concerns.

The report also suggested that as the federal government begins to require newly manufactured helicopters to be more quiet, the old ones, and their noise, will subside over time.

"These are all sensible recommendations," said Congressman Adam Schiff, who was among the legislators who asked the FAA to look into helicopter noise. "But those voluntary measures, in the past, have been inadequate. And the question is, if these measures don't prove sufficient, will the FAA willingly step up to the plate and regulate."

Schiff said the various industries that operate helicopters in the area are opposed to formal regulations. 

"The FAA, as many agencies, is sometimes too close to the industry they regulate," Schiff said.

An FAA spokesperson declined to comment.

In Friday's report, the agency said that FAA regulations on helicopter noise "would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to develop." In the agency's experience, the report said, the "most satisfactory and widely accepted noise abatement measures are those that have been collectively discussed by engaged stakeholders and the FAA at the local level and are supported by local consensus."

Representatives from the FAA are expected to appear along with Schiff and local elected officials at a hearing on helicopter noise in the L.A. area on June 10.

LA Helicopter Noise Report by the FAA

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