Thursday, November 20, 2014

Helicopter Noise: City has unfruitful meeting with Federal Aviation Administration

PORTSMOUTH – City officials traveled to Burlington, Mass. Thursday to see if they could get any help from the Federal Aviation Administration in dealing with noise complaints about Seacoast Helicopters.

But they left the meeting in Massachusetts no better than when they arrived, according to City Manager John Bohenko.

“The meeting went the way we thought it would go,” Bohenko said late Thursday afternoon.

Asked if the FAA offered any help to the city, Bohenko said, “No.”

“We’re going to have to continue working with our Congressional delegation,” Bohenko said. “The city cannot regulate helicopters.”

In addition to city officials, the meeting was attended by representatives of U.S. Sens. Jeanne Shaheen, D, and Kelly Ayotte, R, Bohenko said.

“If somebody wants to move this further, it needs to be in conservations with our Congressional delegation,” Bohenko said.

Mayor Robert Lister, who attended the meeting Thursday, has previously said city officials would make the trip to “see if we can open the lines of communication.”

City officials had invited FAA officials to attend a public meeting in Portsmouth, but the FAA refused.

The FAA released a statement that said they declined to meet with the public about noise complaints because “airport operators are responsible for addressing noise impacts on the communities they serve.”

“The FAA's primary mission is to ensure the safety and efficiency of our nation's navigable airspace,” they said in a statement. “It does not have the authority to prohibit aircraft overflights of a particular geographic area unless the operation is unsafe, or the aircraft is operated in a manner inconsistent with Federal Aviation Regulations.”

The number of noise complaints received at the Pease Development Authority — which oversees the Portsmouth International Airport at Pease — has jumped dramatically during the last five months when Seacoast Helicopters began conducting its red-helicopter tours over Portsmouth and other Seacoast areas.

Pease Development Authority Executive Director David Mullen has acknowledged there’s really nothing the FAA can do to regulate where Seacoast Helicopters flies as long as they follow FAA rules.

“It is a permitted use and they don’t regulate overflights over Portsmouth,” Mullen said previously.

Seacoast Helicopters owner Bruce Cultrera has repeatedly told the Portsmouth Herald that he is already flying his tours at 1,000 feet or more, higher than he is required to by the FAA.

And he has refused so far to change how he operates his business.

FAA regulations state that helicopters, if their operation is “conducted without hazard to persons or property on the surface,” may operate below even the 500 feet requirement for planes flying over non-congested areas, according to a copy of the regulation provided to the Portsmouth Herald.

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