French Riviera residents keep pressure on helo noise issue

 - September 26, 2007, 12:10 PM

Despite an agreement signed in 2006 to mitigate noise around the famous French Riviera city of Saint-Tropez, helicopter operators and local authorities are still at odds about decibels in the popular vacation locale. The acrimony stems from the fact that none of the affected parties seemed to keep its promises last summer. In a major blow to helicopter operators, the local state representative in August closed one unprepared helipad, or “helisurface” (see box).

The issue of aircraft noise around Saint-Tropez has been exacerbated in recent years by the more intensive use of helicopters. Wealthy individuals taking a summer vacation in the exclusive area have found flying increasingly convenient, especially as the roads become more congested every summer.

An angry Françoise Souliman, sub-prefect of Draguignan, emphasized that operators have repeatedly ignored the noise- mitigation rules. “For example, on July 27, there were 108 movements on the Bourrian helisurface; 89 of those were infringing on movement limitations or noise mitigation timing,” she told AIN. As a result, on August 10 she closed the helisurface, effective August 18. The Bourrian helisurface was previously limited to 10 movements per day, and the hours of operation were 10 a.m. to noon and 5 to 8 p.m.

Souliman said she had warned the operators several times, even threatening to sanction them by seizing their licenses. She told AIN that the E38 ($50) fine the local police had been imposing is insignificant against flights that cost several hundred euros.

Souliman named Heli Air Monaco as a repeat offender. The Monaco-based firm, which also owns Nice Hélicoptères, was not a signatory to the 2006 agreement but must nevertheless comply with local orders from the sub-prefect. Heli Air Monaco’s CEO was unavailable for comment.

More Helipad Structures Needed

Souliman reported “progress” on the setup of several helipads but declined to provide a detailed schedule. The 2006 agreement called for replacement of the four dozen helisurfaces–the locations of which local residents often challenge– around Saint-Tropez with permanent “helistations” this year.

According to Gérard David, the president of the Union Française de l’Hélicoptère (UFH) lobby, the four affected cities–Gassin, Grimaud, Ramatuelle and Saint-Tropez–were supposed to have constructed three helistations by the start of the summer, but none of them has met the deadline.

For example, the mayor of Saint-Tropez has included a helistation in a long-term broader town planning project. The next public meeting to discuss it is pegged for December, and it is unlikely that any firm decision will be made before the municipal elections in March.

David noted that neither side has met its obligations, as specified in the 2006 agreement. “The sub-prefect should have urged all parties to fulfill their commitments instead of punishing operators,” he added.

Heli-what?

Under the French administration’s terminology, there are three different kinds of helicopter-dedicated landing facility. A heliport has infrastructures and can accommodate one or several helicopters. A helistation is a straightforward helipad, without any ground equipment. A helisurface, which can resemble a helistation, can be an unprepared to barely marked area. The number of movements at a helisurface is limited, to 200 per year, for example.