LOS ANGELES – It’s a sound that can set windows to rattling, dogs to barking and babies to crying, and it’s one that’s instantly recognizable to pretty much anybody who lives or works in Los Angeles.
It’s that whumpah, whumpah, whumpah sound of helicopter blades tearing through the air, coupled with the steady whine of a powerful aircraft motor hovering right above you.
Depending on where you are, hearing it may mean Charlie Sheen has just left his house, Paris Hilton is headed into a courtroom or some sort of fender-bender has blocked freeway traffic in all directions.
“It sounds like ‘Apocalypse Now,’ ” said Beverly Hills resident Ellen Lutwak, making reference to the famous Vietnam War helicopter scenes from that film.
“I hear it and I know Lindsay Lohan or her friends are in the ’hood,” added Lutwak, who lives down the block from the Beverly Hills courthouse and works at home.
A congressman, spurred on by numerous complaints from constituents, some of them neighbors of Sheen, says it’s time to put a stop to the noise.
“Residents deserve relief from the thunderous clacking of helicopter blades hovering directly over their homes, and instead all they’ve been getting is the runaround from government agencies,” said Rep. Howard Berman, D-Los Angeles, whose district includes Sheen’s neighborhood.
He introduced legislation last week that would order the Federal Aviation Administration to restrict helicopter flight paths and set minimum altitudes. Berman’s bill, however, leaves the hard work of figuring out exactly where those flight paths should go and what the minimum altitudes should be to the FAA itself.
The FAA does have existing rules in place regulating helicopter traffic. Over a congested area, copters are not allowed to fly lower than 1,000 feet above a crowd or the highest obstacle. They can get down to 500 feet in a less-congested area.
The problem, says Richard Close, president of the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Association, is not necessarily one helicopter showing up, but a dozen or more.
His neighborhood got a recent double blast of noise from a small army of choppers.
First, there was the well-documented activity around the home of Sheen when he was fighting with the producers of the TV show “Two and a Half Men,” who eventually fired him. Then there was Carmageddon, the massive traffic jam that was supposed to tie up Close’s neighborhood but really didn’t when a nearby freeway was shut down for repair work earlier this month.
“During Carmageddon it was day and night, nonstop. And it was not one or two helicopters,” Close said. “It was 10, 15, even worse.”
Larry Welk, a veteran TV news reporter and president of the Professional Helicopter Pilots Association, said he doesn’t believe Berman’s bill, if it passes, will have much effect on quieting neighborhoods. He noted it would exempt all military, emergency and medical helicopters, which he said make up most of the chopper traffic over Los Angeles.
As for news helicopters, Welk said their ranks have actually decreased in recent years as the economy has soured.