Congressman wants to limit chopper traffic over LA

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[July 30, 2011]  LOS ANGELES (AP) -- It's a sound that can set windows to rattling, dogs to barking and babies to crying, and it's one that's instantly recognizable to pretty much anybody who lives or works in Los Angeles.

It's that whumpah, whumpah, whumpah sound of helicopter blades tearing through the air, coupled with the steady whine of a powerful aircraft motor hovering right above you.

Depending on where you are, hearing it may mean Charlie Sheen has just left his house, Paris Hilton is headed into a courtroom or some sort of fender-bender accident has blocked freeway traffic in all directions.

"It sounds like 'Apocalypse Now,'" said Beverly Hills resident Ellen Lutwak, making reference to the famous Vietnam War helicopter scenes from that film.

"I hear it and I know Lindsay Lohan or her friends are in the 'hood," added Lutwak, who lives down the block from the Beverly Hills courthouse and works at home.

A congressman, spurred on by numerous complaints from constituents, some of them neighbors of Sheen, says it's time to put a stop to the noise.

"Residents deserve relief from the thunderous clacking of helicopter blades hovering directly over their homes, and instead all they've been getting is the runaround from government agencies," said Rep. Howard Berman, D-Los Angeles, whose district includes Sheen's neighborhood.

He introduced legislation Thursday that would order the Federal Aviation Administration to restrict helicopter flight paths and set minimum altitudes. Berman's bill, however, leaves the hard work of figuring out exactly where those flight paths should go and what the minimum altitudes should be to the FAA itself.

The FAA does have existing rules in place regulating helicopter traffic. Over a congested area, copters are not allowed to fly lower than 1,000 feet above a crowd or the highest obstacle. They can get down to 500 feet in a less congested area.

"Safety is always the FAA's top priority, and we aggressively investigate allegations of unsafe aircraft operations by airplane and helicopter pilots," the agency said in a statement issued Friday. "The FAA works with helicopter operators and community groups around the country to find ways for these aircraft to operate safely and with minimal community noise impacts."

The problem, says Richard Close, president of the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Association, is not necessarily one helicopter showing up but a dozen or more.

His neighborhood, which hugs the hills that separate the San Fernando Valley from Los Angeles' West Side, got a recent double blast of noise from a small army of choppers.

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First, there was the well-documented activity around the home of Sheen when he was fighting with the producers of the TV show "Two and a Half Men," who eventually fired him. Then there was Carmageddon, the massive traffic jam that was supposed to tie up Close's neighborhood, but really didn't, when a nearby freeway was shut down for repair work earlier this month.

"During Carmageddon it was day and night, nonstop. And it was not one or two helicopters," Close said. "It was 10, 15, even worse. During Carmageddon there were private charter helicopters bringing people up who wanted to see the traffic jam."

Larry Welk, a veteran TV news reporter and president of the Professional Helicopter Pilots Association, said he doesn't believe Berman's bill, if it passes, will have much effect on quieting neighborhoods. He noted it would exempt all military, emergency and medical helicopters, which he said make up most of the chopper traffic over Los Angeles.

As for news helicopters, Welk said their ranks have actually decreased in recent years as the economy has soured. The incidents involving paparazzi chartering choppers to follow someone like Hilton to court, as they did a few years ago, don't happen as often as people think they do, Welk said.

One thing that seemed to help set off copter critics this week was a recent New York Times article in which a pilot for Hollywood Helicopter Tours was quoted as boasting he could make all the racket he wanted and no one on the ground could do anything about it. The company did not return a call for comment from The Associated Press.

Although Welk refrained from criticizing the pilot personally, he said such an attitude is not tolerated by his group, whose members are well trained and respectful of the people they fly over.

"I think the impression the general public has of pilots is a bunch of guys with spurs and chaps and cowboy hats sitting around saying, 'Yee haw, let's go fly,' and it's not like that all," he said. "This is our job and we're very professional about it."

[Associated Press; By JOHN ROGERS]

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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