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.
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.
“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 email@example.com.