To address noise complaints, tour helicopter company offers a compromise

To address noise complaints, tour helicopter company offers a compromise
(Image: Safari Helicopters)

BIG ISLAND (HawaiiNewsNow) - After years of complaints about helicopters buzzing over the Big Island, one tour company is now offering a compromise.

Safari Helicopters sent a letter to elected officials and community leaders announcing that it would halt Sunday flights on Hawaii Island during a trial period that started on Feb. 17.

The company began operating on the Big Island 25 years ago and it currently has two aircraft based in Hilo.

"We made the decision that we wanted to show the community we're willing to try something to see if it will help placate some of the noise complaints," said owner Preston Myers.

The company plans to re-evaluate in a few months whether the move creates positive change and is financially viable.

“You don’t know until we see what happens, whether other operators do it, and/or whether this scenario creates additional revenue during the week or not,” said Myers.

The are four other major operators on the Big Island. Safari invited them to join in the experiment.

“If other tour companies follow suit, then we’ll have one day a week, and that would be one weekend day with peace and quiet. It would be a dramatic and welcome change,” said state Sen. Russell Ruderman, whose district includes Puna and Kau.

Ruderman introduced a bill that would require the Hawaii Department of Health to conduct a study with the Federal Aviation Administration and the Department of Transportation on the impacts of aviation noise on residents.

“Hopefully, their study will find that there is impacts from noise and therefore they need to be involved,” said Ruderman. “In the past, they’ve said, 'It’s not our problem.”

The findings and recommendations would then be sent to the state Legislature.

But the Health Department is throwing cold water on that plan.

“While DOH could provide a noise study, we would be ill-equipped to recommend legislation to address aircraft noise because the regulation of Hawaii’s airspace in general, and the management of flight paths in particular, in addition to the noise of an aircraft at its source, are governed exclusively by federal law,” said DOH spokesperson Janice Okubo in a statement.

“Consequently, any undertaking by DOH to regulate in these areas would be subject to federal preemption and would likely be invalidated.”

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