Santa Monica Airport (Photo: Barry Ambrose)
Santa Monica Airport (Photo: Barry Ambrose)

California Screamin'

Bizav boosters should aggressively rebut critics.

Two recent cases from the Los Angeles area highlight the dangers of not aggressively firing back at general aviation critics, especially those in government.

For years, a small group of homeowners have been carping about helicopter noise in the L.A. basin. Helicopters represent an integral part of the city’s infrastructure: an estimated 70 percent of their flights there are essential public-service missions—to contain crime, fight brush fires, transport the critically injured off clogged freeways and the like. In L.A., if you want to get anywhere with any degree of assured punctuality, a helicopter is an important tool. When people complain about these aircraft hovering over their houses in the middle of the night, they’re invariably talking—albeit perhaps unknowingly—about police containing a bad guy, not paparazzi stalking a Kardashian.
It takes only a few small incidents to inspire an opportunistic politician to intervene. Over the last three years, two relatively minor events—an errant military helicopter straying too close to the Hollywood Bowl and overzealous helicopter media coverage of a weekend freeway closure—sparked a spike in noise complaints.
Legislation from a local congressman predictably followed. It initially failed on the merits in congressional committees but was snuck into January’s $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill. As a result, the Federal Aviation Administration likely will be charged with devising mandatory helicopter routes over L.A. that will, at best, be more costly and inconvenient and, at worst, be unsafe. And the noise will just be offloaded from one neighborhood to the next.
A few miles to the north, Santa Monica Airport—a popular and convenient facility for bizjet users—has been under siege for decades. It doesn’t really matter that it has been there since World War I—long before the surrounding neighborhood popped up. Douglas Aircraft operated a plant on the field for years. The federal government took control of the airport during World War II, but deeded it over to the city in 1948 with a proviso that it be operated as an airport “in perpetuity.” The FAA has since rejected many entreaties from the city to shut it down, and that city government recently went to court in an unsuccessful attempt to get the agreement overturned.  
Both cases offer lessons for business aviation users and supporters.
One: your right to fly privately is constantly under attack. Take this right for granted and you will lose it.
Two: it is critical to counter private aviation critics quickly with irrefutable facts—aircraft are quieter and safer than ever before, pilots are safer and better trained, general aviation pumps millions into local economies and air ambulances save lives. If a critical public official still doesn’t see the light, use the electoral process to work to replace him or her.
Three: don’t give critics an opening. Make sure your pilots use appropriate takeoff power, follow noise-abatement routes and procedures and obey curfews—even if this means a little inconvenience for you. The freedom to fly privately comes with responsibilities.