More than 150 people turned out Aug. 6 for a public hearing by the Federal Aviation Administration on regulating helicopter operations that some area residents find bothersome due to noise and safety concerns.
The crowd in the auditorium of Millikan Middle School in Sherman Oaks came from across the greater Los Angeles area - the San Fernando Valley, Hollywood Hills, Brentwood, Torrance, and West L.A - where helicopters carrying media, tourists and celebrity photographers are prone to fly.
Homeowner’s groups and residents who have tired of the noise and interruption of low-flying whirlybirds dominated the comments to FAA representatives. Few of the speakers were connected with operating helicopters.
Chuck Street, a pilot/reporter who has provided coverage for KTLA and KIIS-FM, was among the helicopter pilots who spoke. Street said he recognized about a dozen operators in the audience who came out because they take seriously wanting to work out a solution with upset residents.
When covering breaking news stories, if police radioed to media helicopters about noise complaints, there was compliance with a request to fly higher, Street said.
“In my 35 years of flying I’ve never heard one media pilot refuse to do that, ever,” Street said.
The hearing before Bill Withycombe, a regional administrator for the FAA, and Elizabeth Ray, vice president in mission support services from the agency’s Washington D.C. office, was requested by U.S. Rep. Howard Berman, whose district includes areas of heavy helicopter operations.
Last year, Berman sponsored legislation for the FAA to establish guidelines on helicopter operations in Los Angeles County. He was joined in that effort by two other Valley area congressmen, Reps. Brad Sherman and Adam Schiff. New regulations would not apply to police, fire, military or other emergency helicopter flights.
Sherman and Schiff were present at the FAA hearing, as were Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Krekorian.
Yaroslavsky provided the most dramatic moments of the evening when he played a tape from a recent classical music concert at the Hollywood Bowl interrupted by a passing helicopter.
“We don’t have years to wait to solve this problem,” Yaroslavsky said.
For the past year, helicopter noise has become a hot-button issue in the San Fernando Valley and other parts of Los Angeles, such as the Beachwood Canyon area in the Hollywood Hills near the Hollywood sign, which tend to attract low-flying aircraft.
Berman said he became aware of the problem after his office received complaints in late July 2011 about noise from helicopters covering the temporary closure of the San Diego (405) Freeway through the Sepulveda pass.
A common theme of the comments made by residents was that voluntary efforts by helicopter pilots to not disturb homeowners were not working and the FAA needed to step in to control the problem.
“We need enforceable, legal restrictions right now,” said Bob Anderson, a board member of the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Association.
The association recommended that commercial helicopters not fly below an altitude of 2,000 feet; hover over an area for no more than one minute; have visible identification markings; and not be allowed to fly during evening hours, Anderson said.
Arnold Kleiner, president and general manager of KABC in Glendale, brought a media perspective to the discussion, saying that the station’s helicopter stays above police helicopters and that advances in cameras and lenses allow the copter to stay a further distance away from a news scene and other helicopters.
In addition, the helicopter has the station’s logo printed all over it, including the bottom, Kleiner said.
“If you cannot see it’s Channel 7 it’s because (the helicopter is) so high,” Kleiner said.