Neighbors oppose F1 helicopter proposal UPDATE Over the objections of South Austin residents and businesses, Austin’s aviation director on Thursday approved a pair of temporary helicopter landing pads for use during the upcoming Formula One weekend.
Two helicopter charter companies plan to ferry race fans from two parking garages, on 300 S. Congress Ave. and 901 S. MoPac Blvd., to the Circuit of the Americas race track east of Austin.
Neighbors objected to the plans, saying the helicopters passing near their homes would be too noisy and telling City Council members they only learned of the plans from reports in the American-Statesman and had no opportunity to protest until it was too late.
Aviation director Jim Smith, who has final say in the matter, issued the permits because they complied with city code, according to a statement.
But council members, in a nod to residents’ concerns, ordered the city staff to work with the helicopter companies, neighbors and others affected to create a better way of handling helicopter-taxi businesses during big events in the future. The council also decided to limit temporary so-called helistops to no more than 18 takeoffs and landings for the permit period — far less than will happen next weekend — until new rules are drafted.
That limit won’t affect the upcoming F1 weekend, however, and the issuance of the permits amounted to another declaration by the city that Formula One is the kind of economic and cultural driver that should be embraced — a perspective that has run counter to critics’ contention that F1 is a type of massive international event unsuited to Austin.
Jim Halbrook, a spokesman for the city’s Aviation Department, said the city did restrict the hours of operation for the helicopters to 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Nov. 16-18. The charter companies had applied to operate from 6 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. On Sunday, Nov. 18, which is the U.S. Grand Prix race day and which Halbrook said will be the busiest day of the weekend, the South MoPac location will probably have 46 take-offs and landings. The downtown location will have 20 take-offs and landings that day, he said.
“Pilots are encouraged not to fly over residential areas,” Halbrook said. “Some things are left to the pilots’ discretion for safety reasons.”
That statement didn’t satisfy Barton Hills residents, who said the companies running the helicopter operations were abusing the intent of the law that allows temporary landing pads.
“I don’t know that it was ever really intended as a transit option,” said Melissa Hawthorne, who said she lives about 750 feet east of the South MoPac landing pad and is president of the Barton Hills Neighborhood Association. Hawthorne said festivals at nearby Zilker Park send noise down Barton Creek, and the helicopters will be worse “because this is right on top of the greenbelt.”
The council appeared to be sympathetic to residents’ concerns. But the Aviation Department, not the council, has the authority to issue permits, and the council couldn’t change the criteria for issuing the permits during F1 because the helicopter companies, Fins Up Aviation and Charlie Bravo Aviation, had already submitted their applications.
Thursday’s council session didn’t completely resolve the question of whether the city is issuing at least one of the permits illegally. Fins Up applied for the permit at the MoPac Boulevard site, but TIG Real Estate Services, which manages the Barton Oaks Plaza complex there, contends only the complex’s condominium association has legal standing to make the application.
Beyond that, TIG principal David Alsmeyer also said that his 35 tenants, who include dentists and eye surgeons and more than 550 employees, will be unable to provide services for their patients and customers because of the “noise and disruption” from the 22 to 25 helicopter trips each day of the F1 weekend.
An official with Fins Up Aviation has told the Statesman that all seats have been sold for all trips on two helicopters. One helicopter holds four passengers and the other holds six passengers. Three-day packages run as high as $1,450 per person.
“The noise and vibration will rattle windows and make business interactions impossible,” Alsmeyer wrote in a letter to the council. “We expect the additional vehicle traffic from helicopter passengers will be a major problem.” The Statesman11/04/12 A pending plan to fly helicopters from Barton Oaks Plaza to the Circuit of the Americas during the upcoming Formula One weekend has drawn more flak, this time from the management company for three buildings adjacent to the proposed takeoff and landing site.
The application to the city of Austin for a temporary landing site atop a parking garage off South MoPac Boulevard (Loop 1), filed by Fins Up Aviation LLC, isn’t valid, according to a letter sent Thursday to Mayor Lee Leffingwell from TIG Real Estate Services Inc., because only the Barton Oaks Plaza Condominium Association has standing to make such an application.
Beyond that, the letter from TIG principal David Alsmeyer also said that his 35 tenants, which include dentists and eye surgeons and more than 550 employees, will be unable to provide services for their patients and customers because of the “noise and disruption” from the 22 to 25 helicopter trips each day of the Nov. 16-18 F1 weekend. An official with the helicopter company has told the American-Statesman that all seats have been sold for all trips on two helicopters. One helicopter holds four passengers and the other holds six passengers. Three-day packages run as high as $1,450 per person.
“The noise and vibration will rattle windows and make business interactions impossible,” Alsmeyer wrote. “We expect the additional vehicle traffic from helicopter passengers will be a major problem.”
Alsmeyer said that the owners of the other buildings in the complex, at 901 S. MoPac Blvd., which includes five condominium office buildings and two restaurants, learned about the proposed temporary helicopter landing site only from media reports.
The letter went to Leffingwell and the rest of the Austin City Council and to Jim Smith, director of the city’s Aviation Department. The city code gives Smith sole authority to decide whether or not to grant a temporary permit for helicopter operations within the city.
Smith was out of the office Friday, but had read the letter, airport spokesman Jason Zielinski said. Smith had no comment on the assertions in the letter, including who can or cannot file for a helicopter permit, Zielinski said.
“The site and the application are still being evaluated,” Zielinski said. So is an additional temporary permit for helicopters to use the roof of a parking garage at the Embassy Suites at 300 S. Congress Ave., he said.
Officials with Fins Up Aviation and Hill Partners Inc., the owner of the Barton Oaks building that would be the landing site, couldn’t be reached for comment Friday. The Statesman