A Summary of the Issue

The FAA is currently under tremendous political pressure to raise minimum helicopter altitudes throughout Southern California-- a move that will increase the risk of mid-air collisions near Class D airports. The Association fears that the FAA will accede to this pressure regardless of the danger it poses to the flying community.

One Torrance homeowner decided that helicopters should fly higher over his house. Citing a graph from a Helicopter Association International (HAI) pamphlet, he stated that HAI recommended that helicopters fly at least 2,000 feet above ground level to keep noise below 60 db at ground level for "Low Ambient Noise Areas"--about the same level as is produced by a home TV or dishwasher.

Ms Ricarda Barnnet, co-chair of the Acoustic & Environmental Committee of Helicopter Association International--the organization that produced the pamphlet--said that the "Low Ambient Noise Areas" identified in the pamphlet referred to areas like National Parks, National Wildlife Areas, Waterfowl Refuges, etc. She stated specifically that it did not refer to a city environment like Torrance or Torrance Airport. Furthermore, she said that the altitude recommendations apply only to open country cruise flight and could NOT be construed to be a recommendation that applied to an airport area environment where such altitudes would conflict with fixed wing traffic.

On their web site, the group of homeowners behind this plan cite excessive noise from the overflights as the reason these changes are needed. As proof, they published noise data from helicopter overflights along the West PCH route on July 11, 2008--the black diamonds on the graph, below.

When this data is compared with real-world sound levels, however, the noise generated by the helicopters (average 67.8 db) is far below levels the City of Torrance considers excessive (82db), significantly below the levels of street noise (80 db), and even lower than sound levels produced by a home vacuum cleaner (70 db).

The City of Torrance has no data to show that helicopters on the current routes exceed the Torrance noise ordinances, and City records show few complaints have been recorded.

The flying community questions the need to raise helicopter altitudes--especially changes that pose a risk to those in the air and to those on the ground, as well.

The fact that the City of Torrance has refused to allow TAA, AOPA, CPA or PHPA to participate in this process further heightens fears that the safety concerns of the flying community at Torrance will be ignored to produce a politically-driven outcome.