Commonwealth Ports Authority board chair Kimberlyn King-Hinds disclosed yesterday that CPA has already submitted a complaint to the Federal Aviation Administration about the concerns of noise pollution and flying at near ground level of a red helicopter providing tour services on Saipan which behavior she described as “unacceptable and must stop.”
Asked for comments about netizens expressing anger on social media about noise and dangers posed by the helicopter to the community, King-Hinds agreed that CPA indeed received a series of complaints about the conduct of Vertical Aviation which is in the business of providing helicopter tour services.
As of press time yesterday, Saipan Tribune was still trying to get comments from Vertical Aviation.
King-Hinds said residents from the Papago and surrounding areas have complained about being disturbed by the noise pollution caused by the helicopters.
She said the most recent complaint was raised by members of the general public this weekend with clear evidence that the helicopter tour pilots were flying at near ground level and, at some point, landing on public roads amidst traffic posing safety risks to the community.
CPA’s jurisdiction does not extend beyond the airports, said King-Hinds, adding that airspace is regulated by the FAA but there are no firm rules for how long or high a helicopter must fly.
She cited Federal Aviation Regulations Part 91 that regulates general operating and flight rules.
The chairwoman said regulations state that no person may operate an aircraft over congested areas of a city, town or settlement below an altitude of 1,000 feet above the highest obstacle within a horizontal radius of 2,000 feet of the aircraft and an altitude of 500 feet above the surface over non-congested areas except over open water or sparsely populated areas.
She said regulations state that in those areas, the aircraft may not be operated closer than 500 feet to any person, vessel, vehicle, or structure.
“This FAR however states that helicopters may be operated at less than the minimum altitude provided by the rule as long as the operation is conducted without hazard to persons or property,” King-Hinds said.
The chair said while CPA does not have the authority to regulate this activity, CPA is equally concerned about the safety of the community and is being proactive in addressing the problem.
She said aside from submitting a complaint to the FAA about the conduct of the operator, CPA is also working with its legal department to determine if there are other measures that CPA can take to rectify the situation which includes terminating its agreement with operator should the behavior continue.
Ultimately, King-Hinds said, this is a legislative issue, as raised in previous discussion with members of the Legislature.
“CPA, however, will not pass the buck,” said the chair, disclosing that CPA is currently looking at model ordinances and statutes in other similarly situated cities and municipalities to draft legislation that would address the concerns of the general public and impose license fees specific for such activity, clear attitude requirements over certain areas, and an imposition of hefty penalties and fines for violations.
She said CPA expects that a draft legislation will be forwarded to the respective Public Utilities, Transportation and Communications Committee, and Commerce and Tourism chairpersons in both houses of the Legislature for their consideration and public vetting by the end of next week.