If there’s one thing Bethesda-Chevy Chase residents can bond over, it's hating helicopter noise.
Several times a month editors at Patch receive questions or complaints from residents asking about the helicopters heard over their neighborhoods at night. What's going on? Who can we call about the helicopter noises? What’s the number for the county’s helicopter department?
Well, the answers are: It depends, a couple of people and there isn’t one.
The helicopters you hear flying over Montgomery County are likely one of three types – news choppers, police choppers or medical choppers.
“Aside from the occasional news helicopter up covering a crime scene at night, helicopters are typically up at night for rescue or crime fighting reasons,” Montgomery County spokesman Patrick Lacefield told Patch. “Our police use Maryland State Police helicopters in emergencies to track missing persons, or wanted suspects, or occasionally to airlift a critically injured person.”
Residents should also remember that living in the Bethesda area means that several helicopter-using federal facilities are basically in your back yard – most notably, the National Institutes of Health and Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
Walter Reed spokesman Joe Macri says he usually fields choppers noise complaints for the campus, but hasn’t heard of any recently. The helicopters that land on the federal campus are typically transporting patients to or from NIH and Walter Reed, Macri said.
“We really don't have that many land here,” Macri said. “We average about two a month. It's a fairly small number.”
A total of 26 helicopters landed at NIH/Water Reed last year, he said.
Some patients are also transported to nearby Suburban Hospital via helicopter, though most arrive by ambulance, according to hospital spokeswoman Ronna Borenstein.
As for whom to complain to about chopper noise – you have a few options, but don’t try Montgomery County because there is no “helicopter department,” despite rumors.
The Federal Aviation Administration can receive noise complaints through a variety of offices across the country, according to the FAA Noise Ombudsman office. Most complaints are addressed at local offices, but they can also be sent to the national ombudsman. According to Andrea Freeburg, assistant to the Noise Ombudsman, her office received 677 complaints in 2012 – though complaint numbers are likely much higher when local offices are included.
Even if you do send in a complaint, not much can really be done.
“The FAA does not have the authority to prohibit overflights of a particular geographical area unless the operation is unsafe or inconsistent with FAA regulations,” Freeburg told Patch. “Additionally, the FAA does not have any authority over military operations.”
According to Macri at Walter Reed, military helicopters mostly follow the same control patterns as those controlled by the FAA.
“It’s just a matter of who’s controlling the aircraft,” he said.
Still, if residents think there is something amiss in their local airspace, they should contact the nearest military installment for more information regarding military operations. If a resident is concerned about helicopter noise that is from a non-military source, he or she should contact the helicopter operator, airport manager or airport noise abatement office for more information, Freeburg said.
Do you find yourself annoyed by helicopter noise around Bethesda, Potomac or Chevy Chase? Tell us in the comments!