Helicopter industry deserves more respect: Zuccaro
April 26, 2012, Alexandria, Va. - Assaults on our industry have become interwoven into the very fabric that constitutes our daily activities. Don't get me wrong, I welcome discussions on relevant issues such as safety and noise issues, and appreciate the opportunity to improve in these areas.
By Carey Fredericks
I am talking about in-your-face, no-compromise, take-no-prisoner assaults. For example, a community leader once told me, "You better get retrained; we are going to put you out of business." Good news here, other community representatives indicated they did not agree and looked forward to working with us. Or how about a congressman whose stated goal is to never see or hear another helicopter over his district? What can I say — maybe my new mission should be to make sure he does not get reelected. I tend to lose my sense of humor when I hear such things.
Even hospital heliports are being challenged by some communities they serve: the logic being, sure, save me and my family when we are in need — we love you — just come and go from another location, not my neighborhood.
It also appears that some elected officials want to legislate aviation activities rather than allow regulatory agencies to do their job. This is not good for our industry because these lawmakers are circumventing the current rulemaking process, which seeks input from all parties and allows for appropriate aviation expertise and analysis. Legislative solutions tend to make the situation worse, create safety gaps, eliminate jobs, and reduce industry contributions to the communities they represent.
One such legislative initiative began with a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to create restrictive routes and altitudes — just for helicopters — in response to noise complaints that Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) had received from some of his constituents on Long Island, N.Y. There was no indication of unsafe or inefficient use of the airspace in question.
The FAA believes its authority permits the restriction of helicopter operations predicated solely on noise complaints. We respectfully disagree. We believe that such restrictions have the potential to actually compromise safety and reduce efficient use of the airspace.
It is noteworthy that, in some instances, the noise complaints appear to come from a handful of households, with some individuals making hundreds of complaints a month. No research or scientific study has been conducted. Meanwhile, flight tracking data indicates that the rotorcraft industry is achieving extremely high levels of compliance with voluntary noise abatement procedures established in response to community concerns.
Unfortunately, the FAA NPRM process wasn't moving fast enough for Sen. Schumer, so he attempted to attach an amendment similar to the NPRM to the FAA authorization bill. Thankfully, through the efforts of HAI and our affiliate member, the Eastern Region Helicopter Council, and with some common sense in Congress, his amendment was removed from the bill.
Done deal, you might say — not yet. Sen. Schumer then tried another amendment attached to the federal highway bill. Again, industry action and common sense in Congress prevailed, and it was removed from the bill.
Now we're done — not so fast. Within a few days of the second amendment being removed from the highway bill, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood and Sen. Schumer announced that the original NPRM process had been placed on a fast track with the highest priority — with the promise that the new rules will be in place for the summer season.
Bottom line, Congress rejected the Schumer amendment, twice. The FAA was moving forward in meeting due diligence in the NPRM process, which is good considering the numerous negative responses it received on the proposed rule, the lack of any research or study, the absence of any safety benefit or enhancement of airspace utilization, and the potential to make the situation worse. I say, good for the FAA.
Congress got it right on this one; they recognized that a legislative solution was not the correct one. The FAA should not be coerced into replacing bad lawmaking with bad rulemaking because of political pressure. The FAA deserves better, and we deserve better.
To Sen. Schumer, as always, we welcome the opportunity to continue our ongoing work with you and your constituents on this important issue via our joint cooperative efforts. We respectfully do not think a legislative solution is the correct venue. What are your thoughts?