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Hearing of the Aviation Subcommittee of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee - Helicopters


Location: Washington, DC

Today, Congressman Howard Berman testified in front of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Aviation Subcommittee on the growing safety and noise concerns among Valley residents caused by low-flying helicopters above residential neighborhoods. Earlier this year Congressman Berman introduced H.R. 2677, the Los Angeles Helicopter Noise Relief Act, to bring order to our skies by requiring the FAA to regulate helicopter operations above Los Angeles.

"Today's roundtable was an important next step towards securing reasonable guidelines on helicopter operations above Los Angeles," said Congressman Berman. "I'm looking forward to continuing my work with all interested parties to advance this cause and address the safety concerns and noise complaints shared by Valley residents."

Today's House Transportation and Infrastructure Aviation Subcommittee roundtable was held at the request of Congressman Berman. Last month the Congressman sent a letter to the Chairman and Ranking member of the subcommittee requesting the panel review the issue of helicopter noise and safety concerns in metropolitan areas.

Please see below for a copy of Congressman Berman's full remarks during today's Aviation Subcommittee's roundtable on helicopter operations in metropolitan areas.

I would like to begin by thanking Chairman Petri and Ranking Member Costello for holding this roundtable and permitting me to appear before the Subcommittee.

I would also like to thank the other participants from the FAA, the NTSB, and the helicopter industry for joining me today.

And in addition, I would like to apologize that the original witness scheduled to testify from the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Association in Sherman Oaks, CA was unable to attend the roundtable.

Representing a broad swath of the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles, I constantly hear from my constituents whose homes are buzzed by low flying helicopters at all hours.

Of course living in a major metropolitan area such as LA, helicopter noise has long been a fact of life.

However, the recent "Carmegaddon" in LA, where the 405 freeway -- a major commuting artery -- was closed for a weekend only exacerbated the longstanding problem of helicopter noise over residential areas.

Helicopters were flying over people's houses with reckless abandon to view the freeway.

Never have my constituents seen such a heavy volume of helicopter traffic over their homes.

To illustrate this, I would like to present the Subcommittee with a letter addressed to the Chairman and Ranking Member from the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Association detailing the many concerns raised by local homeowners over excessive helicopter noise in residential areas of LA.

Working with the local community, I drafted the Los Angeles Residential Helicopter Noise Relief Act, legislation which would give the FAA the authority to set minimum altitudes and flight paths for helicopter traffic in LA country.

The legislation has received widespread support within the community, not only from local homeowners associations, but also from numerous members of the California State Assembly, the Los Angeles City Council, and the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.

My bill is modeled on a similar amendment Chuck Schumer managed to include in the Senate version of the FAA authorization bill covering helicopter flights in Long Island.
To clarify, the bill is only limited to LA County, and that's because of the extraordinary number of helicopters operating in the skies above LA.

And of course LA is unique in having helicopters operated by tourism companies or the paparazzi hover over residential areas to peer into celebrity homes or to just get an eagle eye view of the Hollywood sign.

With such a large number of helicopters jockeying for a limited amount of airspace, it's only a matter of time before we have a serious accident or worst.

I fully understand the concerns about my legislation that have been expressed by the FAA, the helicopter industry and others.

But the status quo is simply not acceptable to my constituents.

Yes, there are many responsible helicopter operators, and I'm pleased that they represented before the Subcommittee today.

But unfortunately the old axiom that one bad apple spoils bunch is certainly true here.

For all the outreach, communication, and education that responsible helicopter operators undertake, it only takes one pilot who wants a close-up of a celebrity's backyard or to view the Hollywood sign by moonlight to ruin the quality of life of an entire community.

If the Subcommittee would not mind, I would also like to present this article published over the summer in the New York Times which vividly illustrates how certain helicopter operators can freely and fragrantly disturb communities by gratuitously hovering over homes and neighborhoods.

In this article, a helicopter tour operator is described circling 100 feet over people's homes, with the pilot callously gloating to the reporter: "People don't understand what's really going on. They really can't do anything. I could buzz you as long as I keep my distance. We are legal. They don't control the air space."

I also understand the FAA's concerns about the operational difficulties associated with regulating helicopter flight paths, but I think surely a compromise can be found which allows controllers maximum flexibility while ensuring that my constituents' quality of life and safety isn't undermined.

That's why my legislation does not specify exact flight paths or minimum altitudes.

I think we can all agree that Congress shouldn't be in the position of directing air traffic. It should be left up to the FAA -- as my bill would do.

If the FAA can see fit to set minimum altitudes for aircraft over Disneyland and Disneyworld, and issue draft regulations for helicopter traffic over Long Island, I don't see why we can't come to a common sense agreement over helicopter traffic in Los Angeles.

I'm open to working with the FAA, helicopter operators, and other interested parties to further refine this legislation and ensure that the interests of controllers, operators, and homeowners are fairly balanced.

However the system we have today fails miserably in that regard.

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