Helicopter Association International (HAI) fears that a provision calling on FAA to develop rulemaking covering helicopters operations over Los Angeles further establishes a precedent of allowing local noise concerns alone to dictate airspace design and access.

The recent omnibus appropriations bill, passed by Congress this month, includes a provision requiring FAA to evaluate and make adjustments to helicopter routes above Los Angeles, analyze whether helicopters could fly higher, develop best practices, collaborate with the operators and local community and develop a rulemaking within a year “related to the impact of helicopter use on the quality of life and safety of the people of Los Angeles County” unless FAA can demonstrate progress has already been made.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) backed the measure, saying previous actions have proven inadequate to address local community concerns. “This bill will finally lead to concrete action,” Feinstein says.

“For years, the FAA has not felt the urgency that homeowners and residents across Los Angeles County have felt – very literally with the rattling of windows – on the need to reduce helicopter noise,” Schiff adds. “While we are continuing to work with the FAA on voluntary measures, we need to take an ‘all-of-the-above’ approach towards solving this issue – including new rules and regulations.”

HAI President Matt Zuccaro says the association welcomes the opportunity to collaborate with the community and work with FAA to create best practices and address noise concentrations where possible.

But he is concerned that these restrictions follow FAA’s implementation of mandatory routes over Long Island at the behest of lawmakers responding to noise complaints. “We’re very concerned because it started out on the East Coast,” Zuccaro says.

FAA in July 2012 mandated operators to use the New York North Shore Helicopter Route when flying near Long Island. That requirement came at the behest of Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who had sought to alleviate noise concerns over parts of Long Island. The directive is set to expire in August, but FAA is planning a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) to make it permanent.

HAI had filed a lawsuit to fight the rulemaking, but was unsuccessful in the courts. Zuccaro says the association objected to the route because it was created without a proper study on the actual noise problem in the area, and the results since have been to channel traffic in both directions at the same altitude. He also notes that noise complaints since the rule have actually increased since helicopter operations are concentrated in the route.

In Los Angeles, FAA conducted a study and determined that voluntary measures would provide more effective results sooner than a drawn-out rulemaking. Zuccaro says many Los Angeles community leaders have worked well with operators to try to address concerns. “We’ve had good results,” he says.

But by exerting congressional pressure to mandate airspace routes, “FAA basically loses its authority and its expertise is rejected out of hand. That’s a dangerous thing,” he says. Zuccaro also fears that much of the activity generating the noise complaints may involve life-saving and other critical public missions, such as police, fire and search-and-rescue operations. Different routes will not change that much since those missions are a necessity, he says.

He also believes the complaints come from “a small minority whose only interest is to put [operators] out of business. How do you respond to that?”