Norton, Co-Chair of Quiet Skies Caucus, Writes Secretaries of Defense & Homeland Security Asking for Limitations on Helicopter Flights in D.C.
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), co-chair of the Quiet Skies Caucus, sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas asking that their departments’ helicopters in the District of Columbia fly at higher altitudes, limit nighttime flights and flights over residential areas, and provide advance notice to residents of prolonged training in a particular area.
“D.C. residents contact me frequently about helicopter noise in their neighborhoods,” Norton said. “Residents say that it affects their sleep and their ability to think and have conversations, and that it can cause structural damage to their homes.” Norton asked for a written response by March 19th.
The letter follows.
February 19, 2021
The Honorable Lloyd J. Austin III
Secretary of Defense
1000 Defense Pentagon
Washington, DC 20301-1000
The Honorable Alejandro Mayorkas
Secretary of Homeland Security
2707 Martin Luther King Jr Ave SE
Washington, DC 20528
Dear Secretary Austin and Secretary Mayorkas:
As the co-chair of the Quiet Skies Caucus and as a senior member of the Subcommittee on Aviation, I am very concerned about helicopter noise and safety in the District of Columbia. When flying helicopters in the District, to the greatest extent possible, I ask the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security to fly helicopters at higher altitudes, limit nighttime flights and flights over residential areas, and provide advance notice to residents of prolonged training missions in a particular area, such as the recent prolonged mission at the Naval Observatory. D.C. residents must be factored into your departments’ decision-making regarding the necessity of helicopter flights in D.C., as well as the time, place and manner of such flights.
D.C. residents contact me frequently about helicopter noise in their neighborhoods. Residents say that it affects their sleep and their ability to think and have conversations, and that it causes structural damage to their homes. Helicopter noise is such a concern that my national capital region (NCR) colleagues and I requested a Government Accountability Office (GAO) study on the issue. GAO found that, of the 88,000 helicopter flights within 30 miles of Reagan National Airport between 2017-2019, 33,000 were military flights and 18,000 were law enforcement flights. GAO recommended that the Federal Aviation Administration develop a mechanism to exchange helicopter noise information with operators in the NCR. My colleagues and I plan to introduce legislation to implement this recommendation, which will help us develop solutions in the future. However, there are steps your departments can take now to address helicopter noise.
While I recognize that there are many military bases in the NCR and that there are military, law enforcement and national security reasons for many of the helicopter flights in the NCR, your departments must take into account the fact that the District is a densely populated city when making decisions to fly helicopters in this region. Low-flying helicopters in densely populated urban neighborhoods raise not only noise issues, but safety issues as well. I understand that many of the departments’ helicopters are single engine helicopters, and that in the case of an engine failure or partial loss of power, pilots may be unable to make a safe landing in the dense urban environment of the District.
In the event helicopter flights are necessary and will be prolonged, I ask that your departments give residents advance notice. For example, the Marines recently flew a prolonged training mission near the Naval Observatory. I understand the flights were part of HMX-1’s continuous evaluation of the new Presidential Replacement Helicopter. However, no notice was given to my office or to nearby residents. It would have been appropriate to provide advance notice that such a training mission would be taking place, including its purpose and duration. Not only did the training mission cause noise disturbances, but it also scared residents, coming on the heels of the attack on the U.S. Capitol and the heightened threat environment in D.C.
I request a written response to this letter by March 19, 2021.
Eleanor Holmes Norton