Un-neighborly helicopters

August 10, 2007
By

Bill Mitchell isn’t the only one noticing increased helicopter flights over JP [JP Gazette, July 20]. And it hasn’t just been for the last few months; it’s increased over the last few years. I know, because they fly directly over my roof. That wasn’t always the case. A neighbor who’s lived here 60 years confirmed it’s only a recent development. Another neighbor thinks it started around the time of the Democratic Convention in 2004.

The problem isn’t how many of them there are. It’s how low they’re flying. On two occasions I’ve had friends ask if there was a hospital nearby because the helicopters were so close they assumed they were medevac flights. They weren’t.

And it’s not just Channel 5. It’s every flight from Norwood to downtown—news copters, private ones, military ones.

Want another idea of how low they fly? Last year when a news story broke nearby, I watched the hovering news copters for comparison. The “regular” flights that buzz our homes on a daily basis fly lower. They also fly substantially lower than helicopters over West Roxbury and Needham.

Why is this? Here’s a theory: The helicopter corridor directly overlaps the path of Runway 27 out of Logan Airport. (This is a fact anyone can confirm by sitting on my front steps for an afternoon.) The choppers probably fly low to maintain a safe distance from Runway 27 traffic.

The problem is the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recommends, but doesn’t require, helicopters to maintain a minimum altitude of 2,000 feet over residential areas. And the “Fly Neighborly” helicopter program recommends a minimum from 1,000 feet for small helicopters to 4,000 feet for large ones.

My guess is that the helicopters in JP—small and massive—are flying at about 600 feet or less. That’s the altitude they fly at to maintain a safe distance from runway traffic in Long Island, where Sen. Charles Schumer is pushing the FAA to redesign the airspace with helicopter noise taken into consideration. In my neighborhood, the noise always overpowers conversation and often rattles windows and objects in our homes.

So here’s a question: Boston is a big city. Why are residents who already live under the flight path of Runway 27 being subjected to a double dose of air traffic?! I wouldn’t wish a new flight path on anyone, but if the helicopter corridor wasn’t overlapping Runway 27’s, the helicopters could fly at a recommended—and peaceful—altitude and be much less of an imposition to whoever inherits them.

To put it in perspective, the Norwood Airport Noise Abatement chart states, “All runways maintain minimum pattern altitude (1,000 feet MSL) as long as feasible.” In other words, the people who live next door to Norwood Airport have quieter helicopter flyovers than we do.

I’ll lend a hand to JP resident Bill Mitchell, City Councilor John Tobin, state Rep. Liz Malia, City Councilor Chuck Turner and anyone else who can help address this issue. If I had to guess, their other supporters wouldn’t include all of JP, but would include a long narrow strip of residents who live under Runway 27 and the helicopters’ joint flight paths.

Annie Finnegan
Jamaica Plain

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