Helicopters still drawing complaints
Several Block Island residents took the opportunity during a meeting with Rhode Island Airport Corporation officials to reiterate their concern over noise generated by helicopter tours.
However, the three RIAC officials who conducted the meeting said there was little they could do, provided that the company offering the helicopter tours follows established regulations.
“Mitigation; not elimination.” That was what the officials said could be done to address helicopter issues on the island. Some members of the community noted that noise, and low altitude, were still an issue, and asked the RIAC officials how it could be enforced.
RIAC’s Chief Aeronautics Inspector James Warcup, who noted that he will be fielding complaints concerning the Block Island Airport through a customer service website, said: “We will do what we can to mitigate” issues at the airport. “We read and respond to every complaint.”
Alan Andrade, RIAC’s Senior Vice President of Operations and Maintenance, said the agency’s “hands are tied” regarding what it can and cannot enforce at the airport. Andrade said that while RIAC has a lease agreement with the one and only sightseeing helicopter business on Block Island, the Federal Aviation Administration has jurisdiction over the skies. Andrade said the owner operates two helicopters, a red one, and a blue one, but that only one was permitted to be in service at a time.
“There must be rules,” said resident Linda Jokl, noting that rules and procedures should be posted. “We want to make legitimate complaints.”
Warcup said RIAC would “take action” if there is an issue: “I want your feedback; I really do.” He noted that helicopter procedures would be posted on the bulletin board at the airport.
“How many strikes does he get?” asked Mary Stover of Beach Real Estate, who said at the beach recently she witnessed a helicopter flying at low altitude and passing by “every 20 minutes for three-and-a-half hours. Who is regulating anything? Who is policing this?”
“Aviation is regulated by the FAA,” said Andrade, referring to FAA aviation inspectors. “There is a Freedom of Flight act. It’s an individual’s right. That’s something that Congress established, and we can’t change that.”
If there is an issue with helicopter operation, Warcup said, “Call the airport manager first. Part of the (helicopter operator’s) lease agreement stipulates that they have to follow procedures.”
Reached after the public meeting, Mike Stokowski, a pilot for Heliblock, said the company follows the rules and procedures prescribed by RIAC, and is often mistaken for other helicopters.
“We are mindful of the people who are against it, and do what we can to limit the noise. When we fly over land we’re at least at 1,500 feet, and stay away from the beaches. We don’t do anything that is unsafe,” Stokowski said.
RIAC’s helicopter noise abatement procedures state that helicopters should maintain an altitude of 1,000 feet above ground level when within half a mile of the shoreline; avoid over-flight of populated areas, funerals, schools, and wildlife areas; fly normal cruising speed or slower; avoid steep turns and sharp maneuvers; vary ingress and egress routes; and helicopters are to avoid nighttime operation.