Bill advances that could limit helicopter tours

A bill that eventually could spur greater regulation of helicopter tours in Puna and Ka‘u is moving through the state Legislature.

Senate Bill 2474, introduced by state Sen. Russell Ruderman, D-Puna, would require the state Department of Health to conduct an “aviation noise study” for Puna and surrounding areas of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

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The study would determine the impacts of the noise on the health and welfare of residents in the area, who have long complained helicopters fly too low and are too noisy.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park averages 80 helicopter overflights per day, which is more than any other national park in the country, Ruderman said Friday. He said some “unlucky” residents experience up to 160 helicopter flights per day.

“They fly over residences without regard to who they are bothering,” Ruderman said. “The fact is, nobody regulates the noise. Once the helicopter leaves the airport, the (Federal Aviation Administration) no longer cares about the noise … and (the helicopters) are a terrible problem for people under their flight path. We have been hearing (about the noise) for years — it’s not new — but it’s a growing problem because Puna is the fastest growing district in the state.”

The study also would include public meetings to gather community input. The DOH would be required to report the study’s findings, recommendations and any proposed legislation prior to the 2019 Legislature.

Ruderman said he has “no doubt a legitimate study will determine there’s a serious problem.” He said the bill is “a first step to get the (DOH) involved.”

“Let’s get the (DOH) to monitor the level of noise and maybe next year force them to do something about it,” he said. “If they do this study, they will determine there’s a problem and won’t be able to ignore it anymore. It’s a multiyear approach, but everything we have done in the past has done nothing.”

Ruderman said he also hopes the helicopter tour industry will decide on its own that it “wants to be a good neighbor” and “show good faith efforts … (such as) reducing flights by 25 percent.”

Ruderman’s bill was passed March 6 by the Senate and on Friday cleared the House Transportation Committee.

Meanwhile, lawmakers also are considering a resolution that would ask helicopter tours to limit their hours to sunrise to sunset on business days and slightly later on weekends and holidays.

The resolution also:

• Urges Hawaii’s congressional delegation to introduce legislation addressing helicopter tour operations and noise pollution in the country’s highly populated cities, towns and communities.

• Asks air tour operators to meet with the community regularly to address concerns related to noise complaints and safety issues.

• Asks the state to work with the community and local helicopter tour industry to update air tour flight paths to include a proposed “off-shore route, altitudes, reporting procedures and noise mitigation operations that can alleviate helicopter noise pollution.”

• Urges policies related to helicopter air tours be developed, updated and introduced at the state and national levels.

• Urges the FAA to finish an Air Tour Management Plan for Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

• Urges a decades-old Hawaii Air Tour Common Procedures Manual be updated.

Puna state Rep. Joy San Buenaventura, who co-signed a separate resolution — not specific to helicopter noise — that would establish noise level standards for residential and commercial areas of the state, said noise pollution also is a problem elsewhere, such as the north shore of Oahu.

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“It just seems so much more pronounced (in Puna) when we’re so much more used to the quiet,” San Buenaventura said Friday. “And, as opposed to Oahu, our noise is at night as well as during the day because tourists want to see that red glow. So it’s more pervasive for Puna residents and that’s what (Ruderman’s) study also will show.”

Email Kirsten Johnson at kjohnson@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

  1. SHAUN sheep March 17, 2018 3:53 am

    ’bout time!. Now da votes are needed to stop the madness.


  2. Steve Dearing March 17, 2018 8:22 am

    The best option for noise and privacy concerns for choppers flying out of Hilo on tours to the volcano has proven to be over the ocean. Privacy invasions and noise pollution does have adverse impacts on the right to expect privacy and peace and quiet enjoyment of ones home environment. This includes all choppers including warrantless searches by the police choppers.


    1. keaaukeli March 17, 2018 6:34 pm

      Wow Steve we agree! Everyone is happy if they fly over the ocean. It will cost them some extra time but it would make us in their flight-line happy.


      1. Steve Dearing March 17, 2018 8:23 pm

        I agree. Together we stand, divided we will fall. Let us resolve the problem in the spirit of cooperation for we all have experienced the problem first hand. Failure is not an option!


  3. metalman808 March 17, 2018 11:27 am

    One day I was in my backyard barbecuing with my car stereo turned up pretty loud. As I Went to turn down the volume a tour helicopter was flying over head. All the sudden I realized I could hardly hear my car stereo. And that was just one helicopter out of a hundred.


  4. Love4justice March 19, 2018 10:03 am

    Finally the good people of Hawaii might get a reprieve. Besides noise and privacy intrusion, tour helicopters also spew lots of carcinogens that we end up breathing, and let’s not forget that every once in a while, these rotor-horrors plop from the sky and cause heavy damage and occasional death. Mahalo to Joy and Russell for supporting those who wish to keep Hawaii Hawaii. Aloha


  5. Sara Steiner-jackson March 19, 2018 11:23 am

    They are supposed to fly over the water. Just enforce the laws already on the books. Those tour helicopters are giving residents PTSD. They ruin the property values and are a noisy nuisance which interrupts all thoughts and trying to work or enjoy your yard or your quiet life.

    If the Hawaii Supreme Court can rule that police helicopters are invasive (State v Quiday) they for sure should be able to rule that tour hellis should fly over the ocean or stop flying because they are hurting people. Sorry but just having 60 hellis a day over a house is not any better than having 80 a day so the cutting tours by 25% is a non-solution.


  6. Love4justice March 20, 2018 8:22 am

    They cut corners over our heads to save fuel. They no care about us. Only da money.


  7. Jose Martinez March 21, 2018 5:46 am

    in case any one cares,nothing is going to happen….nothing…it seems a lot of people do what they want,and get away with it,these helicopter people are no different….


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