Editorial: Wilmington City Council And Helicopters: Sound Familiar?

By / Editorials / Wednesday, 26 July 2017 04:00

Managing Editor

The Wilmington City Council recently discussed the operations of helicopter tours above downtown Wilmington. More specifically, in the skies above the historic residential areas and the River Walk area, both in the downtown area.

Mayor Pro-Tem Margaret Haynes expressed concerns about the impact of noise on residential homes, safety of aircraft operations and her knowledge of violations of the City's sign regulations by a helicopter tour operator that has previously obtained four single-day permits to offer tours from property located near the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge.

This sounds awfully familiar to a 2016 story in Carolina Beach where the public largely opposed the commercial operation of helicopter tours within their city limits.

It was the same helicopter company: High Tide Helicopters of Oak Island, NC.

The Council ultimately voted not to permit commercial aircraft operations within Town limits after several lengthy meetings where the public voiced their concerns about noise pollution and safety.
In most cases, citizens didn't have a problem with aircraft (planes and helicopters) flying over Carolina Beach. Their issue was with the louder noise impact of a helicopter landing and taking off multiple times a day on an Island where it's nearly impossible to be far enough away from a landing site to not hear the noise. Noise that is louder during landings and take offs than when they are passing overhead.

Citizens also complained about the frequency of flights. Once or twice a day was fine. Four or five times was tolerable for some people. Flying tours every 15 to 30 minutes was annoying to most residents.

Residents had a couple of benchmark days to formulate their opinions. In 2015 the same helicopter company operated on a vacant lot across from Town Hall for two days over a holiday weekend.
That generated a lot of feedback from residents upset over the loud noise of a helicopter flying overhead throughout the day for two days.

That was the basis for the arguments presented to the Council in January of this year after many months of public meetings and debate.

The Council voted against permitting "commercial" aircraft operations on property located within Town limits.

It's important to note the word, "Commercial" because ultimately the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has jurisdiction over all aircraft in the sky. However, a Town or County has jurisdiction over where commercial operations on the ground can occur. For example, a heliport or airport.

The Town has no ability to govern where a helicopter can land if it's for personal use. For example: You buy  a helicopter, you are licensed, and you want to land in your own backyard (assuming you have enough area to land and take off safely per FAA regulations).  That's because unlike airplanes which require an FAA approved airport or landing strip, the FAA grants helicopters a lot of leeway in terms of regulations in the air and on the ground.

The Wilmington City Council discussed the issue during their most recent agenda review meeting. They requested City staff return in the near future with a proposal to amend the City's code of ordinances to prohibit commercial helicopter tour operations in the downtown area.

Perhaps they will consider prohibiting the same in other areas of the City while considering whether or not some commercial or industrial districts are suitable for such operations.
After all, if prohibited in the downtown area, the next logical step for any commercial helicopter tour operation would be to find a location just outside that prohibited area to operate as close as possible to the most dense population area to attract as many customers as possible to the most convenient location from which they can legally operate. For example, Independence Mall?

Read the report on the Agenda Review meeting: Wilmington City Council Concerned With Noise From Helicopter Tours


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