Neighbors Nix Man's Plan to Fly Helicopter Over Home

Instead of getting welcoming gifts, a man gets protest over his helicopter.

Sept. 27, 2011 — -- When Paul Blanchette, 56, moved into his new home in Burlington, Conn., last August, he thought he was moving into a friendly neighborhood. But instead of receiving warm cookies and welcoming hellos, Blanchette was met by a flurry of protests intent on disallowing him his favorite hobby -- flying his beloved chopper.

Blanchette's hobby is not illegal – he is within his rights to fly his chopper over his house. A state regulation says only that he can't take off from residential land more than 36 times a year, the equivalent of 18 round trips.

But a group of his neighbors, calling itself the Burlington Residential Airspace Safety Organization, wants to outlaw Blanchette's hobby and plans to file an ordinance to restrict aviation activity in residential areas at a board meeting Tuesday night.

Paul Stadler, one of Blanchette's neighbors and a pilot himself, said that safety is the crux of the issue.

"The town zoning board doesn't have any aviation ordinances. We don't want a helicopter creating risk," Stadler said.

All the protest has taken Blanchette by surprise. In his former Taine Mountain neighborhood in nearby Bristol, he flew his helicopter regularly and said his neighbors never complained.

"Taine Mountain is a nice neighborhood, and I assumed it would be the same kind of people here -- kind, considerate, neighborly," Blanchette told ABC "I'm hurt, because no one ever approached me. No one." Blanchette said he first heard about his neighbors' objections from a letter Stadler had been stuffing into mailboxes. The letter, obtained by ABC News, read, "We will continually listen to the noise and be concerned about possible accidents, forest fires, possible loss of life and pollution of water tables."

Blanchette has had a commercial license to fly his plane since 2004, and said he's used his plane only for recreation and charitable purposes – not to make money -- and keeps the helicopter parked at his registered helipad located at the Ultimate Companies in Bristol, where he works. He said he would never fly it over anyone's home.

Stadler, along with 180 other neighbors, said he just wants to get the town to evaluate any potential danger. Although Blanchette owns 4.5 acres, Stadler said the neighborhood is surrounded by a heavily wooded area that could easily catch fire in the event of an accident.

But Jeffrey Bond, spokesman for the Burlington Fire Department, said the risk of an accident is small.

"History has shown benefits of an aircraft, and if you look at examples, aircraft incidents are small and rarely occur with a helicopter," said Bond.

Blanchette said that if the ordinance is passed, he would of course comply with it. He just wants one of his neighbors to talk to him about it.

Blanchette said he and Stadler had exchanged emails in which each expressed his concern, with Stadler worrying mainly about the risk.

"I simply ask that you respect my interest and allow me to show you the helicopter, take you and the neighbors for a flight and explain my approach and departing path," Blanchette wrote. " I'm sure all of our interests are to be a GOOD neighbors."

None of the neighbors ever took Blanchette up on his offer to meet with him – or to take a ride on his plane.

"I do not feel the need to personally confront someone about activity if that activity endangers the neighborhood," said Stadler.

Select Woman Cathy Bergstrom, equivalent to the town's mayor, stepped in to work out a solution -- Blanchette said she was the first person to ever ask his opinion about the fracas. After an investigation, Bergstrom reiterated that Blanchette was within his legal rights to fly his plane over his new house, and that most of Stadler's worries over Blanchette's intentions were unfounded. She even consulted with a real estate company, which confirmed that a helicopter nearby would not affect property values – one of Stadler's objections.

Bergstrom also learned there were two other private planes in the town, and that no enforcement action had ever been taken against them.

She arranged for Stadler and his compatriots to attend Tuesday's meeting where they could address their grievances before the board decided whether to file an ordinance against Blanchette and his plane.

Bergstrom only wished that Blanchette had had the opportunity to speak with his neighbors before it came to this.

"It kind of defeats the purpose [to meet after Tuesday]. I think it would have clarified things. I've had residents call who were misinformed, and once I told them correct information said that they understood. … He just wasn't afforded that opportunity," she said.

But not all the neighbors oppose Blanchette. "What happened to innocent until proven guilty?" Philip Delldonna, Blanchette's next-door neighbor, asked. "He hasn't even landed the helicopter yet, and people are only hearing one side of it. … It's not right."

Deldonna was at home when Blanchette flew over his house for a test run. He said that by the time he figured out what the sound was, it was over.

"My house wasn't shaking, no glasses were falling off," he recalled. He is going to Tuesday night's meeting to support his neighbor.

And Blanchette certainly appreciates the neighborly support, which he said he's sorely missed.

"Never got the chance to get comfortable enough to do what neighbors do, like ask for a cup of sugar," Blanchette said. "I haven't even had the pleasure to meet anyone. That's what's so disheartening."