It’s another election year and time for a fresh round of craven attacks on general aviation by the uninformed elected.
While Congress can’t seem to pass an FAA budget on time, that hasn’t stopped a few members from attempting to micromanage FAA authority in their own districts, especially if it helps them get re-elected.
Consider the messy, nasty congressional primary campaign between U.S. Reps. Howard Berman and Brad Sherman, two veteran Southern California Democrats tossed into the same constituency because of redistricting. Forget the ongoing, on-camera animus between House Speaker John Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi; these guys really hate each other. They likely will spend $12 million combined to beat each others’ brains in before their June primary, and the invective is already flying. But that hasn’t stopped them from adopting the same White House play-book page when it comes to attacking general aviation as a way of pandering to voters.
Sherman and Berman are both pushing legislation that would restrict helicopter flight paths in the Los Angeles basin in the name of noise control. The Los Angeles Residential Helicopter Noise Relief Act (H.R. 2677) would require the FAA to reset flight path and minimum altitudes for civil helicopter operations there within one year of passage. A somewhat less strident companion bill (S.2019) offered by California’s Diane Feinstein and Barbara Boxer in the U.S. Senate gives the FAA three years to do the same.
Rep. Tom Petri (R-Wis.), chairman of the aviation subcommittee, gave the House bill a polite airing in October. Berman used the opportunity to uncork over-the-top hyperbole that could be filtered into a few choice campaign sound bites. Without providing any hard evidence such as radar tracks or FAA enforcement actions, he accused civil helicopters, heavily implying newscopters, of “flying over people’s houses with reckless abandon” near the 405 freeway, adding “it’s only a matter of time before we have a serious accident or worse.” What is worse than a serious accident was left to the imagination.
Berman paid homage to U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) for inspiring the LA-area legislation. “My bill is modeled on a similar amendment Chuck Schumer managed to include in the Senate version of the FAA authorization bill covering helicopter flights over Long Island.” Sherman’s comments on H.R. 2677 were somewhat less inflammatory, but he strongly supports it. Both men are also pushing for mandatory 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. curfews at the Burbank and Van Nuys airports and support over-reaching federal legislation to do just that, H.R. 842, the Valley-Wide Noise Relief Act of 2011. In November, Sherman bragged that he is a “longtime advocate of aggressive noise control measures” at both airports.
Unsubstantiated Noise Complaints, Says NBAA
NBAA has consistently opposed the mandatory curfews at both airports. “The proposed nighttime curfews would circumvent the requirements of the Airport Noise and Capacity Act of 1990 [ANCA], impacting the national aviation system and damaging local businesses,” said NBAA president and CEO Ed Bolen.
Both Burbank and Van Nuys airports add significant value to the local economy, a point that seems to be conveniently lost on Berman and Sherman.
A 2007 economic impact study by Martin Associates found that Van Nuys contributed more than $1.3 billion to the Southern California economy annually, supported more than 12,300 jobs and generated an earnings impact of $707 million. Van Nuys is self-supporting and generates more than $80 million in state and local tax revenue annually.
A similar study of the Burbank airport in 2006 found it contributed $3.9 billion to the Southern California economy, created 2,400 jobs on the airport and another 34,000 in the broader economy, with a wage value of $1.2 billion from airport activity. In less than a decade jobs generated by Burbank doubled and its economic impact more than quadrupled.
Southern California also has one of the most vibrant civil helicopter communities in the nation, and the world’s most prolific producer of them, Robinson, is based there.
Rather than finding ways to help these powerful economic engines grow, Berman and Sherman instead grab for headlines and campaign contributions by pandering to a relatively small number of constituents, almost all of whom knew they were buying a house near an airport or under a flight path.
“It’s more political than reality,” Matt Zuccaro, president of the Helicopter Association International, said of aviation noise complaints. “We’re up for working with the local communities, but a lot of these [noise] issues are never vetted or studied. There’s no research, and a lot of legislation and regulation is being driven by an unbelievably small number of people in a given community, where 10 to 15 people generate 75 percent of the complaints.”
Democrats are not the only mischief-makers when it comes to targeting GA. In 2005, former Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.) introduced a highly publicized but failed bill to ground the MU-2 turboprop after one crashed in his district. Last year, Rep. Candice Miller (R-Mich.) authored a bill (H.R. 1117) that, among other things, would allow individual states to regulate “the physical attributes of the air ambulance necessary for protection of the ambulance, ground and emergency response personnel.” What is going on in LA is just another example of short-sighted, craven congressional politics at its worst, and Zuccaro cautions that it can produce unintended consequences that adversely impact safety and operational efficiency.