2-Feb-2012 Source: HAI
Over the past few weeks, senior lawmakers from the House and Senate transportation committees hammered out behind closed doors a final agreement on legislation to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) through 2015. HAI President Matt Zuccaro remarked, â€œAfter five long years of debate and 23 separate extensions of funding and authorization, we are gratified and relieved to see such a major step forward.â€
A provision to regulate helicopter routes and address noise issues over populated areas in Long Island New York, championed by New York Democratic Senator Charles Schumer, and inserted at the eleventh hour in the Senate FAA bill, was dropped in final negotiations with senior lawmakers. HAI had opposed the Schumer provision due to the dangerous precedent it would establish relative to noise complaints alone, serving as justification for ill-conceived helicopter restrictions. Similar legislative initiatives have recently been introduced in Congress in anticipation of the Schumer provisions becoming law.
Zuccaro is especially grateful for the support of leaders from both parties and both chambers of Congress to ensure that airspace issues are dealt with where they are supposed to be – at the FAA. â€œIt is vitally important that the public and the users of the nationâ€™s airspace have an opportunity for input through the rulemaking process and public comment period, anytime the government considers changes to that valuable public resource,â€ Zuccaro said.
A legislative mandate for airspace design and regulations is not an appropriate course of action to address noise issues. Senator Schumer continues to press for FAA requirements for helicopters in the New York area to fly offshore and at a minimum altitude of 2,500 feet, and he has gained the ear of U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood. LaHood has confirmed that a final regulation predicated on an earlier Notice of Proposed Rulemaking will be in effect by July 4, and Senator Schumer said this week that, â€œSecretary LaHoodâ€™s strong statement should serve as a wake-up call to the helicopter industry.â€
The Eastern Region Helicopter Council and HAI oppose the implementation of specific routes and altitudes which are established upon nothing more than a noise complaint. Such actions should only be taken in response to the safe and efficient use of the airspace, as determined by the FAA, after appropriate study and research.
The FAA Reauthorization bill funds safety programs, including NextGen air traffic control modernization, and provides approximately $13.4 billion for the Airport Improvement Program; $38.3 billion for FAA operations; $672 million for Research, Engineering and Development; and $10.9 billion for FAAâ€™s Facilities and Equipment account. The measure also sets timelines for FAA action on the safe integration of UASs into the national airspace system as well as streamlining environmental reviews for new and more efficient flight paths. Zuccaro noted â€œHelicopter operators in the Gulf of Mexico are already benefiting from NextGen and know how important modernization will be for the rest of the national airspace system.â€
HAI staff members are working to analyze the legislation and will provide a comprehensive update on programs and changes of interest to the rotorcraft community. Updates will be posted on the HAI website as information becomes available.