Thiele Hails U.S. Court of Appeals Decision Upholding FAA Helicopter Routes Based on Noise Abatement

Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has the legal authority to establish helicopter routes “to protect individuals and property on the ground”

New York State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr. today hailed a U.S. Court of Appeals decision issued on July 12, 2013, that struck down a challenge by Helicopter Association International, Inc. to the FAA rule establishing a mandatory North Shore Helicopter Route for Long Island a mile off shore.

When elected officials and the FAA received complaints about helicopter noise on the North Shore of Long Island, the FAA in 2010 proposed the mandatory North Shore Route. The FAA determined that “slightly more than a third of the total number of commenters complained about the levels of helicopter noise that they are exposed to, particularly during the summer months,” and issued the final rule in 2012.

The FAA found that “residents along the North Shore of Long Island emphatically agreed that helicopter overflights during the summer months are unbearable and negatively impact their quality of life. In promulgating the Final Rule, the FAA did not change the existing route that had been in use for several years but explained that “maximizing the utilization of the existing route by making it mandatory will secure and improve upon the decreased levels of noise that have been voluntarily achieved.” Exceptions were provided for helicopters not adequately outfitted to travel the route safely and/or pilots who determine route deviation is required because of weather or a need to transition to or from a destination or point of landing.

In upholding the mandatory North Shore Route, the U.S. Court of Appeals stated “Under the plain text of § 40103, the FAA has authority to “prescribe air traffic regulations . . . [to] protect individuals and property on the ground.” 49 U.S.C. § 40103(b)(2). This is exactly what the FAA did here. Responding to the noise complaints of Long Island residents, the FAA prescribed new air traffic regulations with the purpose of protecting these residents’ use and enjoyment of their property. Noise, when it reaches certain levels, has long been considered an actionable nuisance because of its impediment to the use and enjoyment of property. The word “protect,” defined as “to cover or shield from that which would injure, destroy, or detrimentally affect,” is broad enough to encompass protection from noise caused by aircraft, and Congress would, absent indication to the contrary, have intended that the word be read in accordance with its natural meaning, see Regents of the Univ. of Cal. v. Pub. Emplymt. Relations Bd., 485 U.S. 589, 595 (1988).”

Thiele stated, “Whether the FAA had the legal authority to protect the public from helicopter noise had long been a bone of contention. Some argued that the FAA would need additional Congressional Authority to mandate helicopter routes on the basis of noise mitigation. With this federal appeals court decision we now know that the FAA already possesses that authority. It is a major victory for the public.”

Thiele added, “Now that the court has established the FAA’s legal authority to protect the public from helicopter noise, it is time for the FAA to provide the same protection to the South Shore as the North Shore by approving a mandatory Atlantic Route. On Oct 12, 2012, 19 elected officials from the East End, led by myself, Congressman Bishop, and State Senator Ken LaValle, renewed the call, first made in 2010, for the establishment of a mandatory Atlantic Route. To date, no action has been taken on this request by the FAA. Now is the time to act so that that a mandatory Atlantic Route can be in place by 2014.”