Lawmakers look to reduce helicopter noise, but how to do so is up in the air

Updated: Apr. 2, 2019 at 6:36 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Residents along the coastline from Waikiki to Diamond Head and Kahala have been raising their voices for years to complain about noise from tour helicopters disrupting their neighborhoods.

“It’s big noise, and it gets our sleep, you can’t watch TV,” said Linda Wong of the Diamond Head-Kapahulu Neighborhood Board.

A bill that’s been moving through the state legislature would issue a surcharge against commercial tour helicopter companies, perhaps of a dollar per passenger.

“Helicopters can operate according to their existing flight patterns but do so in a way that tries to limit the amount of impact they have by placing additional fees on certain operations beyond a number of flights or tours per day,” said state Rep. Chris Lee, who chairs the state House Judiciary Committee. He added the language to the senate bill when it went before his committee.

Another part of the bill would offer a tax credit to companies that use noise-canceling technology on their helicopters.

The companies counter that no such technology exists.

“If we could do it, we would quiet our helicopters the best we can. And it’s just not available,” said Richard Schuman of Magnum Helicopters.

Schuman believes another type of technology will work. It’s a new system that uses GPS, called ADS-B, which stands for “Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast.” It will track and broadcast just how high and where a helicopter is over a neighborhood. All aircraft will be required to have this tracking technology by January 1st of next year.

“With this new technology from a tracking mechanism, the FAA will be able to look and say ‘Look, you are going over this and you are going this altitude,'" said Schuman. “So it will give them some teeth and most operators -- I think we welcome that.”

""It’s less about the technology that might be available, but rather it’s more about trying to put something together that helps relieve some of the late night overflights that are disrupting people’s lives on a regular basis," said Lee.

The bill has already moved further in the legislature than previous attempts to reduce helicopter noise. The senate bill has already been approved by the Judiciary and Finance committees in the state House.

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