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Get to the Chopper: Suggestions May Smooth Helicopter Service

Whirlybirds, eggbeaters, choppers — whatever you want to call them — helicopters brought some kind of ruckus over 2012’s Formula 1 weekend. And now a group is looking at what can make for a less turbulent 2013.

Over 265,000 attendees descended on the Formula 1 track over race weekend, according to the Circuit of the America's count. And as F1 attracts its fair share of uber-wealthy racing fans, many skipped ground transportation altogether in favor of helicopters.

Tonight, a Helicopter Stakeholder meeting will convene to discuss possible recommendations for helicopter use over the racing weekend in the future, and suggest amendments to city code to better helicopter rentals and regular Austinites alike.

The stakeholders include helicopter operators, F1 event producers, and some disgruntled property owners within earshot of the choppers.

Aviation Department Assistant Director Shane Harbinson says the department estimates that there were around 2,500 flights over the whole weekend; the work of the stakeholders could go toward regulating the number of flights and the use of temporary landing sites that were maligned by Central Austin residents.

“We did have a total of about 114 noise complaints,” Harbinson says. “The majority of those were around the 78704 zip code around Travis Heights, near the temporary landing pad on top of the Embassy Suites.” 

One helicopter operator, McRae Aviation of Fort Worth, supervised the Circuit of the Americas’ helipads near the track. Owner Steve McRae traveled to Austin today to attend the meeting, and said everything was a breeze out at the on-site pad. But with 300 to 400 landings on Sunday alone – each typically carrying four to five passengers – McRae understands that there was plenty of negative buzz about town. 

“I've heard off the speedway, the landing areas downtown and near Mopac … that people were concerned about the noise," McRae said. "I understand people were concerned about the noise and hopefully those are things that we'll talk about tonight to clear the air.”

Stakeholders will meet at the city’s Learning Research Center at Austin Bergstrom International Airport tonight at 6 p.m. 

Andrew Weber is a general assignment reporter for KUT, focusing on criminal justice, policing, courts and homelessness in Austin and Travis County. Got a tip? You can email him at Follow him on Twitter @England_Weber.
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