The following is a letter to the author of a Torrance Breeze article titled “Critics Protest Scheduled End of FAA’s Helicopter Noise Complaint Hotline”. It was co-written by Morrie Zager, PHPA President, and Chuck Street, President of the L.A. Area Helicopter Operators Association.
From: Chuck Street <email@example.com>
Sent: Friday, July 27, 2018 9:18:56 AM
To: Nick Green
Subject: YOUR ARTICLE ABOUT LOCAL ELECTED OFFICIALS SUPPORTING CONTINUED FUNDING OF ACS
Dear Mr. Green,
I must say that I was disappointed in the narrow scope of your story about the local elected officials who are advocating for continued funding of the FAA sponsored helicopter noise complaint system. Absent from your story were any quotes from members of the local helicopter industry which would have made your piece more “fair and balanced.” And your article inferred that members of the L.A. Area Helicopter Noise Coalition (LAAHNC) were frustrated that the ACS program was not being renewed. Nothing could be further from the truth!
About six months ago, an FAA official notified members of the Helicopter Noise Complaint Review Committee that the program funding would not be extended past June 30th, 2018.
(As you probably know, the above mentioned committee meets on the third Thursday of each month. The committee is comprised of members of the LAAHNC (Richard Root’s group) and representatives from the local helicopter industry. Industry reps include me, from the L.A. Area Helicopter Operators Association, Morrie Zager, president of the Professional Helicopter Pilots Association, Ed Story from the same group (PHPA), Keith Newmeyer from the Robinson Helicopter Company, and Jim Wisecup from Air Methods).
Morrie and I suggested approaching the L.A. County Supervisors for continued funding for the program. We believed that the Supervisors might be open to authorizing funding because helicopter noise is a concern to some county residents. And $30K per year would be a droplet in their yearly budget.
Morrie volunteered to write a draft letter that would make the request for continued funding. I indicated that I would co-sign the letter as a representative of my organization (LAAHOA). We asked Gerry Hans from the LAAHNC if he would sign the letter requesting continued funding from the county and he indicated that he would get back to us on this request after consultation with other members of the HNC.
At the next Helicopter Noise Complaint Review Committee meeting, Gerry indicated that after careful consideration, he and his fellow coalition members had decided NOT to support continued funding of the ACS program. Morrie and I were “slack jawed!” We asked WHY? Mr. Hans indicated that the data being captured was not helpful and more often than not, did not provide identification of the aircraft. I reminded Mr. Hans that beginning in 2020, ADS-B data would become available and positive identification of aircraft transitioning through the L.A. basin would be more readily available. He suggested waiting until after 2020 and and then ask the federal government for funding for a new Automated Complaint system. I reminded him and other members of the HNC that it cost $250K to set up the current system and asking for at least that amount again might be challenging after 2020. Morrie and I suggested “let’s keep the current system going at $30K per year and request enhancements later (which would probably be cheaper than asking for a whole new program. Why re-invent the wheel?). Morrie and I asked Gerry Hans to reconsider their HNC position. At the next meeting, Mr. Hans indicated that they had not changed their position and the HNC would NOT support continued funding of the ACS program. Morrie and I sent our letter to each of the L.A. County Supervisors without a signature from the LAAHNC.
On May 29th (2018), I flew to Washington D.C. The next day I (along with Cade Clark from Helicopter Association International) met with Congressman Adam Schiff’s Legislative Director, Joe Jankiewicz and Congressman Alan Lowenthal’s Legislative Assistant, Shane Trimmer. PHPA president Morrie Zager was on the speaker phone during the meeting. Morrie and I presented our thoughts and observations about the helicopter noise controversy in Los Angeles. During the presentation, we informed Mr. Jankiewicz and Mr. Trimmer that funding for the FAA ACS program was ending. I asked these congressional aids if they could ask their bosses if each would write a letter of support to the L.A. County Supervisors for continued funding of the ACS program. Both indicated that they would pass on the request to their respective bosses. Mr. Jankiewicz suggested that perhaps FAA funding could be revived. He said that he would talk with Mr. Schiff about that possibility. Both Morrie and I were pleased to hear this.
Neither Morrie nor myself need credit for this latest request from the local elected officials. We just want to see the program continue with the enhancements suggested. But it is disingenuous for members of the LAAHNC to now claim that they have been FOR continued funding of the ACS program.
Many of us in the local helicopter industry want to see the ACS program continue because it objectively QUANTIFIES the extent of the CONCERN about helicopter noise in the Los Angeles area. And the existence of the program reminds helicopter pilots that there is accountability for how they operate their aircraft in the region.
I have often wondered about why members of the LAAHNC declined to support continued funding of the ACS program. The only thing I can come up with is the fact that the data generated by the ACS program does not support the HNC’s contention that helicopter noise is a major concern with a significant number of county residents. Contrary to what the HNC says, the average number of monthly complaints filed is about 5500. Seems like a lot. But if you drill down deeper in the data, you see that about 400 to 500 individual people file the complaints. This average number represents less than 1/10th of ONE PERCENT of the residents in Los Angeles County. I suspect the HNC was expecting to see upwards of 75,000 monthly complaints such as those generated in the San Jose area after the Metroplex system was introduced.
The ZIP Code that generates the most complaints is 90068 which encompasses the neighborhoods in the vicinity of the HOLLYWOOD SIGN. Clearly there are people who live in that area who are concerned about helicopter noise. However, if you take a look at the month of April 2018, 1737 complaints were filed from that ZIP Code. If you dig down deeper, 1484 complaints were filed by ONE person (85.4%). Another person filed 148 complaints (8.5%). Between the two of them, their complaints totaled 93.9% of all complaints filed from this ZIP code for the month of April 2018. We have seen this kind of “gaming” of the system in at least one other ZIP Code as well. This is not to suggest that any member of the HNC is engaged in this kind of “cheating.”
Despite this kind of “gaming” activity, we in the local helicopter industry are committed to making adjustments where it makes sense to do so and without compromising safety. The frustrating thing for those us in the local helicopter industry is that members of the HNC are practicing political gamesmanship. We are diligently seeking SOLUTIONS! The constant political posturing by the HNC is very frustrating for us!
If you have any questions regarding the things I have presented in this e-message do not hesitate to contact me.
Los Angeles Area Helicopter Operators Association
“Aviation Professionals Serving the Community”
Cell # 714-322-9402
P.S. Part of presenting “fair and balanced” coverage of this issue would be to contact PHPA president Morrie Zager. I can provide contact information.