TV news helicopters come under fire

This just in: Noise complaints at the Hayward Executive Airport (HWD) in the San Francisco Bay Area are now focusing on one segment of general aviation: helicopters used by news gathering organizations.

At a recent public hearing, Hayward city officials listened to complaints from residents who are tired of being awakened by the sound of helicopters that fly during morning rush hour.

In response to the complaints, city officials hired Coffman and Associates, a well-known airport planning consultant company from Phoenix, to study the issue over the next four months. At the end of the study the noise issue will be reviewed and it is possible new procedures could be created and implemented.

In addition, the city is forming committees made up of neighborhood residents, helicopter operators and the FAA to review existing procedures and to determine where the noise sensitive areas are.

The airport sits in Class D airspace beneath a shelf of Oakland’s Class B airspace. Over the years, the World War II-era airport has been hemmed in by suburbia, and noise complaints have increased.

Local pilots do follow noise abatement procedures when safety permits, according to Jenny Donnelley, the city’s administrative assistant. Procedures include limiting turns until a specific altitude when safety permits and keeping approaches and departures over a golf course and industrial area.

“The pilots based here are courteous,” she said. “It’s the transient ones who don’t know our procedures that we have problems with. Recently we completed a noise awareness brochure that they are sending to pilots and there is a new Automated Noise Information System that can be called up on 122.85.”

During news gathering operations, pilots must follow air traffic control procedures that may include staying below 1,500 feet msl to avoid Class B airspace. To the untrained eye, it might appear the helicopters are too low.

“Our pilots are in touch with air traffic control at all times and fly at the assigned altitude,” said Don Sharp, head of news operations for KRON, the NBC affiliate in San Francisco. “The only time we really get complaints about the noise is when all four media helicopters from the TV stations are over the same site. Then the garbage cans start to rattle.”

It doesn’t make sense for pilots to harrass the neighbors intentionally, added Don Ford, news operations manager for KPIX 5, the CBS affiliate in the area.

“We are very high profile and have to maintain exceptional standards when we deal with the public,” he said. “Our pilot personally answers all the e-mails we get about the helicopter.”

Ford notes the television stations work very closely with local law enforcement agencies, which also have helicopters, so that when there is a situation where TV news organizations launch their helicopters, everyone is on the same page.

The TV stations also make a point of attending public events, such as local air shows, so that they can meet the public and educate them about the use of the helicopter.

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