Helicopter noise panel takes shape

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald file photo Passengers disembark from a Blue Hawaiian helicopter at the Hilo International Airport.

A new roundtable committee that aims to address noise caused by commercial helicopters is seemingly close to being established, nearly two months after its creation was announced at a community meeting on the issue.

That meeting was hosted by the state Department of Transportation’s Airports Division to discuss helicopter flights over residential areas. Representatives from the DOT, the Federal Aviation Administration and Hawaii Helicopter Association were in attendance and more than 40 community members, from the nearly 200 in attendance, made comments.

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A preliminary list of “roundtable attendees” provided to the Tribune-Herald by state Sen. Kai Kahele, a Hilo Democrat, was unconfirmed by the DOT Thursday.

That list, which is subject to change, included: Steve Santiago and Daryl Fujita from the DOT, Tiffany Chitwood from the FAA, Eric Lincoln and Paul Morris from the Hawaii Helicopter Association, and Conrad Hokama and Alan Okinaka as community representatives.

Additionally, Patrick Kahawaiolaa, president of the Keaukaha Community Association, confirmed Thursday that he had committed to being on the committee after being asked earlier this week.

Noise, in general, has long been an issue for Keaukaha because of the community’s proximity to Hilo International Airport.

“For me and the community I represent, the noise generates there,” Kahawaiolaa said. “… It begins in my community and it ends in my community, so that’s why I thought we should be at the table and to see how we can help.”

In a letter to DOT Director Jade Butay following the August meeting, Kahele encouraged the inclusion of Hawaii Island Coalition Malama Pono (or HICoP), the Keaukaha Community Association and any other “interested stakeholder members” in the working group.

Kahele said Thursday he was glad the Keaukaha community would have a representative on the committee.

The concept of the roundtable is to bring different, interested parties together to come up with “creative and meaningful collaborative solutions” so that those recommendations can be presented to the Legislature, he said.

But it’s ultimately the FAA and the U.S. Department of the Interior, which manages national parks, to make “fundamental and concrete change” in terms of rules regarding air tour operators in the state, Kahele said.

“If we’re going to wait for the federal government, we’re probably going to be waiting forever, so if we want to make changes, then it’s going to have to come from within,” he said.

There will have to be compromises to find the balance between tour helicopter operations “and how we can also preserve the quietness and the noise level around the community,” Kahele said, especially in communities that are highly trafficked, such as lower Puna and Piihonua.

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Groups will need to “come to the table and compromise and work together and come up with something we can all live with,” he said. “It’s a good step forward in the right direction.”

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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