By Mary Carroll, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The Secretary of State for the Environment (SEA), the State Environmental Institute and the Chico Mendes Institute signed the Termo de Ajustamento de Conduta (TAC) last Tuesday, July 24th, to regulate the air-taxi company Helisul. The objective of the agreement is to stem the noise pollution created by frequent helicopter flights over Rio’s scenic areas, a large concentration of which are in the Zona Sul (South Zone).
The mandate for more regulations is a response to protests made by residents of different neighborhoods who are angered by the frequent tourist flights.
Each year, flocks of tourists arrive in Rio looking to experience the exotic landscape from a privileged view, but this has become a concern for residents, largely because of the noise of the helicopters as they fly near residences.
Under the TAC agreement, Helisul will be obligated to remove Jardim Botânico, Botafogo, Humaitá and Urca from their flight routes. They will also have to alter six other flight routes and increase the minimum overhead flight height from 500 feet to 1,000 feet.
“The current flight paths go directly beside or slightly over buildings as they short-cut the Arpoador Point,” says Rick Devin, a resident of Ipanema disturbed by the helicopter tours.
He believes the problem would be solved if flight routes could go far out over the water. “That would obviously assist greatly in the noise pollution levels experienced onshore,” says Devin.
The TAC agreement is also aimed at restricting operating hours to prevent early morning and evening flights, and the new operational hours will be from 9:30AM to sunset. Helisul will be prohibited from taking flights over the landmarks of Sugar Loaf Mountain and Botafogo bay, and the flight radius around Christ the Redeemer will be increased to 600 meters.
Devin remains skeptical of the measures. “I have recently learned that there are more than sixteen separate helicopter companies operating within the city of Rio. The proposed 9AM to 5:30PM restrictions have only been indicated for one tourist helicopter operator… that leaves more or less fifteen other companies without the same regulations,” he says.
Carlos Minc, State Secretary for the Environment, estimates that the new restrictions will reduce noise pollution by sixty percent. Minc also proposed two monitoring programs: the first will be for observing flight routes used by aircrafts to ensure the new regulations are being followed, and the second will be the monitoring of noise at four different points around Hospital da Lagoa, Mirante Dona Marta, Humaitá and Urca.
The helipads at Mirante Dona Marta and Morro da Urca have been closed off by the State Secretary for Environment and President of INEA, Marilene Ramos, as both were operating without licenses.
“It’s rare that I do not receive a complaint from a resident about it. The activities at these two points brought disorder to Urca and the nearby neighborhoods. On sunny days, it was a pain,” says Celi Ferreira, President of the Residents Association of Urca.
The Brazilian Association of Helicopter Pilots has acknowledged that airspace in Rio does need better regulation, however, they maintain that it would be a mistake to prevent take-off at the Lagoa heliport.
In May of 2008, the helipad was briefly closed down over safety issues, but it was later reopened. A civil action lawsuit was filed in September, which is still being processed, requesting that the helipad be shut down, and claimed that the use of the helipad was having a negative effect on the lagoon, which should be used only for leisure.