Angry residents demand City Council fix flight school noise pollution

Cedar City Council Council Chambers, Cedar City, Utah, May 6, 2015 | Photo by Carin Miller, St. George News

CEDAR CITY – Emotions were high in the Cedar City Council Chambers Wednesday night as a group of residents who live in the unincorporated Iron County area near 6800 North demanded the city take responsibility for constant noise over their houses since Upper Limit Aviation came to town.

Iron County residents attended City Council to complain about the Upper Limit Aviation flight school helicopter noise in their area, Council Chambers, Cedar City, Utah, date | Photo by Carin Miller, St. George News
Iron County residents attend City Council to complain about the Upper Limit Aviation flight school helicopter noise in their area, Council Chambers, Cedar City, Utah, June 10, 2015 | Photo by Carin Miller, St. George News

The four residents who attended the meeting said they were there to represent their entire neighborhood, but in the future they would be happy to bring along everyone in the area who has had enough of the noise. There would be enough people to fill the room and then some, homeowner Howard Maize said.

Maize, who was the spokesperson for the group, said the sound has become so loud and so frequent that it has begun to disrupt their everyday way of life.

“They fly low, they fly slowly and they are very loud,” he said. “Most of us are retired or semi-retired, and this is a constant nuisance.”

One resident has been keeping a log, noting every time a helicopter has flown over his house, Maize said, and he has been keeping a video log. Based on his calculations, helicpoters are flying over an average of six to eight times a day

Their homes are also near a substation that residents hear humming all day and night every day of the week, Maize said, explaining they have come to terms with that already. They will not rest easy, however, until this helicopter matter is laid to rest with what they believe would be a fair compromise, he said.

The angry residents have been shuffled back and forth between the city and the county so many times they’ve lost count, Maize said, and it has become beyond frustrating. It is their contention that since the business dwells within the city’s borders, this should be a matter of the city placing restrictions that would help mitigate the circumstances.

Iron County resident Howard Maize and residents from his neighborhood attended City Council to complain about the Upper Limit Aviation flight school helicopter noise in their area, Council Chambers, Cedar City, Utah, date | Photo by Carin Miller, St. George News
Iron County resident Howard Maize and residents from his neighborhood attend a City Council meeting to complain about the Upper Limit Aviation flight school helicopter noise in their area, Council Chambers, Cedar City, Utah, June 10, 2015 | Photo by Carin Miller, St. George News

“There’s places out towards Enoch, there’s places all over,” he said. “This is such a wide open area that for them to pick one area for their flight path every single day – I can’t see any reason for it.”

The reason the helicopters follow the flight pattern they do is because all aircraft is required to use a specific path designated by the Federal Aviation Administration, Cedar City Regional Airport Manager Jeremy Valgardson said. That path is called a VOR, which means a very high frequency omnidirectional range, and it acts as an invisible highway in the sky.

“It’s federal airspace, and it’s nothing that we as the city or the county can control,” he said. “What it does is it basically, if you’re flying in a cloud, that’s your separation; you know, you’re not going to hit a mountain, you know. You’re not going to hit a house if you follow this highway in the sky.”

VORs are established by the FAA, Valgardson said, and have been carved in stone since some time in the 1930s. The current VOR for the Cedar City Regional Airport goes almost directly over the homes of the disgruntled residents within about a mile.

While the residents respect the school and appreciate the economic boost in the community, resident Larry Flick said, some common consideration for the residents in the area would not be too much to ask.

Cedar City Regional Airport Manager Jeremy Valgardson and Communication and Business Relations Manager Scott Jolley address the Council about complaints, Council Chambers, Cedar City, Utah, date | Photo by Carin Miller, St. George News
Cedar City Regional Airport Manager Jeremy Valgardson and Communication and Business Relations Manager Scott Jolley address the City Council about complaints, Council Chambers, Cedar City, Utah, June 10, 2015 | Photo by Carin Miller, St. George News

One suggestion he offered was to give at least one day of rest to the neighborhood so community members can have family gatherings and barbecues that go uninterrupted for a change.

“This helicopter thing is a business,” Flick said, addressing the council, “and it’s you guys’ job to set rules for that business, and it seems like a curfew from 7 (p.m.) to 7 (a.m.) would be real nice, and if they could give us one day on the weekend off.”

Upper Limit Aviation currently has 230 students and caps at 300 students, Communication and Business Relations Manager Scott Jolley said. The flight school plans to increase its student numbers to reach capacity.

Representatives from Upper Limit are currently working with the FAA to reduce the required hours of completion, he said, so students can complete their required training without increasing the hours helicopters are in the sky.

The idea that the flight school would increase the number of students, even if they decrease the required hours, was of no comfort to Maize. It’s gone from bad to worse in his mind, he said.

While decreasing hour requirements would keep the number of flight hours similar to what they are now as student numbers go up, he said, the frequency of flights over his home would increase.

Iron County Sheriff Mark Gower spoke in support of the flight school's position in the community, Council Chambers, Cedar City, Utah, date | Photo by Carin Miller, St. George News
Iron County Sheriff Mark Gower speaks in support of the flight school’s position in the community, Council Chambers, Cedar City, Utah, June 10, 2015 | Photo by Carin Miller, St. George News

Upper Limit Aviation has been an indispensable tool for law enforcement in the community on more than one occasion since they opened, Iron County Sheriff Mark Gower said. Living near the airport, he said, he could sympathize with the residents’ frustration; but, overall, he is grateful they are here and hopes they stay.

One audience member suggested using simulators to help gain hours of experience, but that was shot down quickly by one of the flight school’s teachers, who explained that simulators do not equal flight hours in the eyes of the FAA.

“Sounds like excuses to me,” said one man, who was seated in the crowd.

After nearly an hour of discussion, it was agreed the flight school would take Maize on a flight to show him the flight patterns and explain the training to him in hopes of achieving mutual understanding.

There was no actual resolution reached by the end of the public discussion and, for now, the school has made no promises to make changes to the schedule to allow for a day off.

The residents and school representative have agreed to meet on their own time and discuss possible options to try and find middle ground.

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3 Comments

  • tcrider June 12, 2015 at 9:17 am

    The only real solution to this problem would be to get the flight school to move, and the local residents will not be able to afford this.

    This whole situation was caused by poor planing and code enforcement on the cities part, and perhaps some shady dealings with real estate developers, also known as the (realty lawyers of Washington county), What needs to happen, is local residents of problem area, to organize class action claim against the city and the developer.
    This could be started in a number of different ways, best way to start it, would be to research local environment impact survey first,

    • MariaLouise June 12, 2015 at 11:28 am

      Yep. Really poor planning on the city’s part. I’ve seen those helicopters do amazingly stupid things. They once buzzed a neighbor’s house, coming incredibly close to it. I called anyone and everyone I could think of and read them the riot act over it. Every single person I talked to disclaimed responsibility, one actually told me that “they would never fly lower than the FAA allowed”. Yeah. Right. At least I never saw them do that again.

      They just had the opening ceremonies of the summer games last night and they had five of those irritating things fly really low and slow over the stadium. Twice. That is just a horrendous accident waiting to happen.

      But it’s an incredible money-maker, (and huge govt rip-off), and, as we all know, the bottom line is all that matters here.

      Funny how so many people hate the federal govt in this country, but have no problem doing whatever they can to rip it (us) off for all they can. Actually, it’s not funny. It’s very hypocritical:

      http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-me-adv-gibill-20150315-story.html#page=1

  • MariaLouise June 12, 2015 at 12:01 pm

    P.S. The only law “enforcement” use of a helicopter I’ve witnessed was absolutely ridiculous. It was after a bank at the south interstate interchange was robbed. The guy took off on foot towards Walmart. Common sense would lead one to believe that he had his vehicle parked over there and just got in and made his getaway via the interstate. But law enforcement had a new, expensive toy at their disposal, so they spent what seemed like the entire rest of the day flying over and over the poorer parts of Cedar City. Like the guy would be dumb enough to just keep the same clothes on and walk around all day carrying a big bag of money. Who knows how much money the police wasted on that one… But what really matters is that they had some fun.

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