Good news about helicopter overflights? Stayed tuned.

Photo credit: Prayitno  licensed under CC BY 2.0

by David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

On August 31, the Federal Aviation Administration finally complied with Congress’s now-20-year-old “National Parks Air Tour Management Act of 2000” that requires the FAA to actively reduce and manage helicopter traffic over national parks and monuments. That’s right–it’s taken 20 years. Will anything change now? That remains to be seen, but the decades-long battle with the FAA to constrain noisy and dangerous helicopter sight-seeing flights seems to stumble from one tragic accident to the next. So it may continue until either (1) somebody invents a truly quiet and safe helicopter, or (2) communities–and smaller federal agencies like the National Park Service–finally gain local control over their airspace, or (3) the head of the FAA, who happens to be Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s wife, Elaine Chao, leaves after the upcoming election, and the incoming president appoints somebody who will listen to the public’s concerns about noise and safety.

Please note that there’s already a proposed new Congressional Act on the table in DC called “The Safe and Quiet Skies Act of 2019.” It was offered by Hawaii Congressman Ed Case, who says that “[t]here’s a groundswell of opposition to these [helicopter overflight] tours….[but] the FAA has shown no interest in regulating this industry.”

Case himself keeps his eye on Flight Radar24 to stay on top of the problems encountered by his constituents back home in Hawaii. He also sits on DC’s growing, 48-member Congressional Quiet Skies Caucus. Since the 2016 election of Donald Trump, this caucus has grown significantly—enough to twist arms and win noise-control concessions during the struggle over the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018.

The point is that there’s now an organized and growing group of members of Congress who are paying attention to the aircraft noise issue, and they’ve shown they can get something done. Now let’s hope they’ll grow again in the election this November and flex some muscle over the next Congress beginning in 2021.

David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S12-WG44, the Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Committee. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0” (Springer, 2012), a contributor to the NAE’s “Technology for a Quieter America” and the GSA’s “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics at Rensselaer Polytech. A graduate of UC-Berkeley with advanced degrees from Cornell, he is a frequent organizer of professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

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