Modified helicopter routes are coming to the North Capital Region, which comprises areas of Maryland, Northern Virginia, and Washington, D.C., thanks to a successful partnership involving US House Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.-08), the FAA, HAI, and the Eastern Region Helicopter Council (ERHC).
“This has been a very successful program all around,” says Jeff Smith, chair of the HAI Board of Directors. “This all came together exactly how it should have, with industry and government communicating and working together to come to a solution.
“A lot of credit goes to Representative Beyer. He’s a real pragmatist, and he worked with us to accomplish tangible results,” Smith continues. “He was also instrumental in getting local municipalities on board to continue to fund data-gathering a year past when our study ended, to help determine the benefits of the changes. His leadership illustrates how well we can all work together toward mutually beneficial results when communication and collaboration are involved.”
Last year, in response to recommendations from a 2021 report that Rep. Beyer requested from the US Government Accountability Office (GAO), and with the support of the FAA, HAI and the ERHC launched a six-month study of regional rotorcraft sound. Working in partnership with aviation noise consultancy PlaneNoise, the participants gathered data through sophisticated flight tracking and correlated it with helicopter sound complaints to identify opportunities to make altitude and zone changes to routes. The FAA Eastern Region was instrumental in bringing in local air traffic representation and working to balance the needs of the industry and elected officials during the project.
The partners’ findings were shared with helicopter operators including the US Department of Defense and other federal agencies, air ambulance services, and other stakeholders in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area to determine what changes to routes each could make or accept. Their feedback was incorporated in the final assessment.
The new changes include altitude increases in helicopter routes 2, 3, 5, 6, and 7 and lateral zone boundary and altitude changes in zones 1, 2, 3, and 5 as depicted on the FAA’s Baltimore-Washington Helicopter Route Chart. The changes, announced in April, are expected to go into effect in June 2023.