At Issue: FAA Budget
The Federal Aviation Administration must reduce its budget by more than $600 million to comply with the sequestration law. REUTERS

A group of California politicians has introduced legislation into Congress that would force a federal agency to regulate noise in a local neighborhood.

The Los Angeles Residential Helicopter Noise Relief Act of 2013 would “require the Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration to prescribe regulations,” such as mandated flight paths and minimum altitudes, to reduce noise in the county.

Notice it says “require” not “allow.” That’s because the FAA does not want this authority. Rather, it said these regulations are potentially dangerous, and has been saying so for years.

The Noise Relief Act of 2013 is a reintroduction of an earlier measure, the Los Angeles Residential Helicopter Relief Act of 2011, which has since failed. In 2012, after the first act’s introduction, the FAA met with Los Angeles residents to discuss the problem of helicopter noise.

“We explained that mandating minimum helicopter altitudes would, in some places, put helicopters at altitudes that conflict with aircraft arriving at and departing from local airports,” Ian Gregor, public affairs manager for the FAA Pacific Division, said in an email on Tuesday. “Also, we explained that limiting where helicopters could operate could create unsafe congestion in other areas.”

This is not just an excuse.

In 2012, the FAA agreed to mandate that helicopters fly along the North Shore of Long Island, N.Y., to minimize noise for the residents. In its final ruling, it stated this was possible because it could do so safely “by beginning the route at a point that minimizes interaction with LaGuardia’s airport traffic, and allowing deviations at the pilot’s discretion for safety and weather concerns.”

Granted, this rule has prompted a lawsuit by Helicopter Association International, claiming the route requirement actually is unsafe, and adding that mandating one in the first place overstepped FAA’s authority.

But that’s another issue entirely. The point here is that the very existence of this rule proves the FAA thinks it has the authority to set these regulations when possible -- meaning the reason it won’t do so in Los Angeles really is because it is not.

Despite this, dozens of groups, including the California Senate, the California Assembly, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, the City of Beverly Hills, and the city councils of Los Angeles, West Hollywood, Lomita, Hermosa Beach, Rolling Hills Estates, Redondo Beach, Palos Verdes Estates, Rancho Palos Verdes, have adopted resolutions in support of one or both of the measures.

Such widespread support for resolutions demanding federal intrusion into local affairs, even in the face of the would-be regulating agency’s insistence that it is unsafe, must indicate the issues at hand are quite severe, right?

According to the act, such drastic action is “needed” because helicopter noise “interrupts daily life for many residents by interfering with the ability to hear conversations, the television, the radio, or the telephone, and disrupting sleep cycles.”

Californians want to force President Barack Obama and Congress to demand a federal agency to create regulations to solve a local problem -- one that regulations cannot safely solve -- because sometimes people can’t hear their phones or miss a few seconds of “Keeping Up with the Kardashians.”

One could make a whole series of arguments about why the FAA has no business regulating helicopter traffic in L.A. After all, choosing to live anywhere comes with positives and negatives. Ironically, the resolution itself seems to explain why helicopter noise is an unavoidable and should be expected in the area:

“The County of Los Angeles is home to a unique and very large concentration of scenic, historic, entertainment, and transportation venues, including movie studios, movie stars’ homes, outdoor entertainment facilities, the coastline, Griffith Park, the Hollywood sign, and many others, that generate extensive helicopter tours engaged in sightseeing activity.”

Right. There is a lot of helicopter noise in Los Angeles because there are a lot of reasons for helicopters to fly there.

But Angelinos expect government intervention to solve everything. Their willingness to surrender the right to local control over its local affairs over something as simple as noise interfering with phone calls would be bad enough. But this is worse. Much worse.

The objections to these regulations are not ideological, but practical. The FAA cannot set regulations to control helicopter noise because there is no safe way to do so. Period. They were told this in 2011 -- yet here we are.

As progressive as they claim to be, California politicians must subscribe to the age-old belief that rulers are gods. After all, they have a faith in the federal machine so quixotic, so blind, so limitless, that they believe it can overcome tactical impossibilities.

Katherine Timpf is the communications manager for Campus Reform and is a 2012 Robert Novak fellow with The Phillips Foundation.