CHOPPY SKIES by Cory Harden

Noise and vibration from tour helicopters have bedeviled Hawai’i residents for decades. But repeated
and widespread concerns voiced by beleaguered communities have largely been ignored. The noise
terrifies children and animals, sets off PTSD in war veterans, intrudes on sleep, interrupts conversations,
and causes inescapable stress. On Hawai’i Island, during the eruption, tour helicopters never let
up—they kept flying, over people who were losing their homes, their neighborhoods, and their

But the State Board of Land and Natural Resources (BLNR) continues to approve permits for tour aircraft
and helicopter facilities.

BLNR relies on seriously outdated airport Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) for the permits—one
was almost 50 years old; another 30 years old. This despite State rules that say “Agencies shall not,
without careful examination and comparison, use past determinations and previous EISs to apply to the
action at hand.” HAR 11-200. 1-11 (d)

When Turtle Bay Resort tried to use a 25-year-old environmental study, the Hawai’i Supreme Court
ordered a new study, in 2010.

When Makena Resort on Maui tried to use a 40-year-old EIS, in 2017, Sierra Club sued, leading to a
settlement requiring a new EIS.

BLNR approval of seemingly innocuous actions like tie-downs, ticket counters, and hangar rentals,
without relevant environmental studies, leads to serious off-site noise impacts. This may violate State
rules that say “A group of actions shall be treated as a single action when…An individual action is a
necessary precedent to a larger action…” (HAR 11-200.1-10)

In addition, State law requires an Environmental Assessment for “construction of new or the expansion
or modification of existing helicopter facilities…that by way of their activities, may affect…a conservation
district…[or] a shoreline area” (HRS 343-5) – the areas sought out by tour aircraft.
At one BLNR meeting, a member asked if helicopters were being towed into a hangar (instead of flying
too close to the hangar). Airport staff replied that they had seen helicopters “doing things that they
probably shouldn’t be doing”. But no one asked any more questions, and BLNR approved the permit.
Hawai’i Island helicopter companies have said they cannot reduce noise impacts by flying over the
ocean, instead of homes, because they lack equipment for over-ocean flights. But they regularly fly over
the ocean off other islands.

Several O’ahu neighborhood boards have adopted resolutions calling for tighter regulation of tour
helicopters. And Honolulu City Council is now considering a resolution asking that landing permits for
tour helicopters be revoked until noise concerns are addressed.

Sierra Club continues to work on the issue in coordination with citizen groups.

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