Representative Howard Berman of Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley has been getting an earful lately from constituents disgruntled by constant, low level overflights from sightseeing, paparazzi and media helicopters from nearby Burbank Airport. In response, Berman introduced the Los Angeles Residential Helicopter Noise Relief Act which would require the Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) to establish rules on flight paths and minimum altitudes for helicopter operations above residential neighborhoods within one year of the bill having been signed into law. The bill would contain exemptions for emergency responders and the military. Surprisingly, while FAA regulation 14 C.F.R. section 91.119 establishes minimum altitudes for fixed-wing aircraft, it exempts helicopters from such requirements. “A helicopter may be operated at less than the minimums prescribed in paragraph (b) or (c) of this section, provided each person operating the helicopter complies with any routes or altitudes specifically prescribed for helicopters by the FAA.” 14 C.F.R. section 91.119(d)(1).
The conventional wisdom is that the legislative proposal will meet stiff resistance in the House of Representatives, with a predominance of members wary of increased government regulation, and from helicopter trade groups such as the Helicopter Association International which has already expressed skepticism for such a “legislative fix.”
However, the legislative road may be less bumpy in the Senate, where only earlier this year Senator Charles Schumer of New York gained approval of an amendment to an FAA bill which would require the agency to adopt rules limiting helicopter noise over residential areas on Long Island.
Schumer’s, and now Berman’s, legislation may serve as the proverbial “camel’s nose under the tent” for communities subjected to frequent helicopter overflights. While both are geographically specific, and targeted at their own constituencies, both pieces of legislation may set a precedent for increased regulation of currently substantially uncontrolled helicopter overflight.