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Los Angeles residents vent frustrations about helicopter noise at public hearing

Residents from various parts of Los Angeles County packed a Sherman Oaks middle school Monday night for a chance to tell federal regulation officials what it’s like to live under low-flying helicopters. The public hearing comes after years of residential complaints of helicopter noise and political efforts to pass federal legislation that would force the FAA to regulate helicopter operations for noise control.

“While passing overhead, they make windows rattle and outdoor conversations nearly impossible,” said Alexander von Wecher, a board member of the Oaks Homeowners Association. Their 800-resident Hollywood Hills community sits right up on Griffith Park. Wecher said tour helicopters constantly fly over the park and then hover at the Hollywood sign for pictures.

Some called for a 2,000 feet above ground minimum altitude for non-emergency helicopters. The Sherman Oaks Homeowners Association suggested the FAA set a one-minute-or-less time limit on hovering, set curfews on helicopter sightseeing hours and consider using freeways as preferred routes.

Most people pointed the finger at tour company helicopters and news media choppers for buzzing over celebrity mansions or flooding the streets with a spotlight on a car chase.

“I know you’ve heard about Lindsay Lohan and Carmageddon, but the mother of all helicopter noise occurred in the mid-to-late ‘90s when O.J. Simpson went to court every day,” said Brentwood neighborhood resident Donald Keller.

The general manager for KABC TV news station, Arnie Kleiner, took the mic to explain how the station uses its helicopter.

“We do fly above law enforcement at all times. We never go below law enforcement, including Carmageddon, including the Hollywood Bowl,” Kleiner said.

Though lots of people were quick to blame the paparazzi and tour choppers, several residents shook their fists at the police pilots sitting at the back of the room.

“News cameras, tour helicopters, they aren’t flying at 3 o’clock in the morning,” said Michael Atlan. He lives in Toluca Lake near Universal Studios. He thinks police chopper pilots use emergency calls as an excuse to cut through neighborhoods at high speeds and low altitudes.

Another resident complained about police helicopter activity in Pasadena. The man said the helicopter pilots respond to all types of calls including traffic stops, lost dogs and suspicious people walking around in the neighborhoods.

“It’s an enormous source of frustration, because you are dealing with the police, and what really confounds it and complicates it is that you have politicians involved, and the politicians know what side of the bread is buttered,” Atlan said.

Rep. Howard Berman (D-Valley Village), who is running for reelection, called on the FAA to host a public hearing in Los Angeles on helicopter noise. His bill directing the FAA to regulate helicopters in Los Angeles didn’t get anywhere in Congress. It would exempt law enforcement and emergency helicopters from proposed regulations.

Representatives from the FAA told the audience they would also be meeting with helicopter pilots, companies, aviation operations and associations to get their side of the story. The representatives said they are recommending the pilots use new technology to quiet their aircrafts and are suggesting pilots are trained using a “fly-friendly” industry course that is sensitive to noise pollution.