Regional Access Issues

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Helicopter Group Asks Court to Invalidate Mandated Long Island Flight Corridor

March 21, 2013

The Helicopter Association International (HAI) is continuing its legal challenge of the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA’s) authority to restrict helicopter flights due to noise complaints as concerns grow that more and more communities will seek legislative solutions to resolve local helicopter noise issues.

HAI’s actions come as Congress considers two bills, introduced in February, seeking to restrict helicopter flights in the Los Angeles area.

Last month, HAI filed comments in a petition with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, asking that it strike down the New York North Shore Helicopter Route, which was mandated by the FAA on July 3, 2012. HAI initially filed a petition on July 31, 2012, with the DC Appeals Court seeking review of FAA’s decision.

HAI argues that the FAA mandate is invalid, “because it is arbitrary and capricious, is not supported by (and indeed is contrary to) substantial evidence in the record, compromises safety, exceeds FAA’s rulemaking authority, and was issued without complying with the Regulatory Flexibility Act (RFA).”

HAI also claims the FAA has failed to prove that the alleged noise problem even exists, saying that the complaints from residents and legislators contain no supporting data showing that helicopter noise exceeds acceptable limits.

“Rather, substantial evidence in the record, gathered in FAA’s own study, shows that helicopter noise was well within acceptable limits, as defined by FAA’s own noise standards,” HAI said. “FAA arbitrarily ignored its own evidence and standards and failed to offer a reasoned explanation for doing so.”

HAI also argues that the rule exceeds FAA’s statutory authority because the two statutory provisions on which FAA relies do not authorize alleviating aircraft noise by regulating helicopter flight operations. Oral arguments have yet to be heard in the case.

The corridor, which runs along Long Island’s North Shore, was mandated despite the fact that a voluntary program to use the route failed to alleviate noise complaints. In fact, even though more than 95 percent of pilots flying from Manhattan to the Hamptons in eastern Long Island voluntarily flew the route starting in 2007, noise complaints more than tripled, according to the Eastern Region Helicopter Council.

HAI President Matt Zuccaro has warned that attempts in Long Island and Los Angeles to restrict helicopter flights because of noise concerns may spread around the country and eventually target fixed-wing aircraft and general aviation airports.

Stacy Howard, NBAA’s western regional representative, agreed that the mandated Long Island North Shore route exceeds the FAA’s normal rulemaking process and sets a dangerous precedent.

Federal legislation requiring the FAA to set guidelines on flight paths and minimum altitudes used by helicopter operators in residential areas in Los Angeles County has been reintroduced in the 113th Congress. The new bills, which were introduced in both the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate, are sponsored by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-28-CA) and Sens. Diane Feinstein (D-CA) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA). The bills are similar to legislation submitted in the House in October 2011 by former Rep. Howard Berman (D-28-CA) and Rep. Brad Sherman (D-30-CA). That legislation “died” in committee at the end of the last Congress.