By Southwester Staff

Being a densely populated city and the seat of the nation’s capital, we are no strangers to helicopter traffic, especially preceding the summer of 2020 up through the present. Recently there has been an uptick in chopper traffic overhead, and the noise is fraying already frayed nerves. 

The District’s long-serving but non voting member of Congress, Eleanor Holmes Norton, who co-chairs the Quiet Skies Caucus, sent a letter to the acting director of the National Park Service (NPS), asking him to consider the fact that people live here. “D.C. residents must be factored into NPS’s decision-making regarding the necessity of helicopter flights in D.C., as well as the time, place and manner of such flights,” Norton said.

Her full letter to the Acting Director of NPS is below. 

Dear Acting Director (Shawn) Benge,

As a co-chair of the Quiet Skies Caucus and as a senior member of the Subcommittee on Aviation, I am very concerned about helicopter noise and safety in the District of Columbia. When flying helicopters in the District, to the greatest extent possible, I ask the National Park Service (NPS) to fly helicopters at higher altitudes, limit nighttime flights and flights over residential areas, and provide advance notice to residents of prolonged training missions in a particular area. D.C. residents must be factored into NPS’s decision-making regarding the necessity of helicopter flights in D.C., as well as the time, place and manner of such flights.

D.C. residents contact me frequently about helicopter noise in their neighborhoods.  Residents say that it affects their sleep and their ability to think and have conversations, and that it causes structural damage to their homes. Helicopter noise is such a concern that my national capital region (NCR) colleagues and I requested a Government Accountability Office (GAO) study on the issue. GAO found that, of the 88,000 helicopter flights within 30 miles of Reagan National Airport between 2017-2019, 18,000 were law enforcement flights, which includes flights by the U.S. Park Police. GAO recommended that the Federal Aviation Administration develop a mechanism to exchange helicopter noise information with operators in the NCR. My colleagues and I plan to introduce legislation to implement this recommendation, which will help us develop solutions in the future. I also understand that the U.S. Park Police is looking at relocating its helipad in the long-term. Still, there are steps NPS can take in the immediate term to address helicopter noise.

While I recognize that there are many helicopter operators in the NCR and that there are law enforcement and national security reasons for many of the helicopter flights in the NCR, NPS must take into account the fact that the District is a densely populated city when making decisions to fly helicopters in this region. Low-flying helicopters in densely populated urban neighborhoods raise not only noise issues, but safety issues as well. I understand that NPS helicopters are likely single engine helicopters, and that in the case of an engine failure or partial loss of power, pilots may be unable to make a safe landing in the dense urban environment of the District.

In the event helicopter flights are necessary and will be prolonged in a particular area, I ask that NPS give residents advance notice. For example, I have received reports from constituents that NPS helicopters have been flying many late-night flights and engaging in prolonged hovering in Anacostia. The residents have observed a pattern of helicopters circling between 7:30 p.m. and10:30 p.m. While I recognize there is a helipad at Anacostia Park if this is a training program or other ongoing mission, residents should be notified about the reason and the expected duration. These repeated and prolonged flights not only cause noise disturbances, but also frighten residents, coming on the heels of the attack on the U.S. Capitol and the heightened threat environment in D.C.

I request a written response to this letter by March 26, 2021.

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