Increased helicopter flights over Kelvin Peninsula?

WLW questions and QAC response, December 2022

We Love Wakatipu contacted QAC over community concerns about the impacts on residents of increased helicopter use of the flight path over Frankton, Kawarau Falls and Kelvin Peninsula and the lack of community consultation/discussion. 

Below is the response from Sara Irvine, QAC GM sustainability and corporate affairs, to our second email, after the first did not elicit an informative response. Not all questions (listed below) were answered, but considering the time of year, we decided we’d go with what we’d got.  December 21, 2022:

I’m happy to provide more detail. You explained that you have been provided with snippets of information from a few different sources. I can clarify for you the airport’s position and the process for the decision that was taken by QAC, and endorsed by Airways and the Civil Aviation Authority.

It is correct that there have been instances relating to airfield approaches and departures where safety concerns were raised by general aviation operators as well as Airways. This required QAC to act swiftly to reduce risk to aviation safety, and in consultation with Airways, the Civil Aviation Authority and the general aviation community we have worked to remove the procedure that was related to these safety concerns. With regard to your query relating to ‘splitting’ fixed wing and helicopters, we have a number of different arrival and departure procedures into and out of ZQN. We have removed one of those procedures to reduce a safety issue between helicopters and fixed wing aircraft. Fixed wing aircraft and helicopters will continue to access the airport using existing flight tracks with Airways expediting the most efficient arrival and departure procedure for operators.

As part of the process we did consider possible noise impacts on local residents and it was confirmed by Airways that an adverse impact on surrounding neighbourhoods was not anticipated. This is because the procedures focus on the airfield activity, particularly during higher movement periods of the day. These updated procedures do not mean that helicopters are now going to be routed over Kelvin Peninsula, Kawarau Falls and Frankton (as opposed to via QEC and Lake Johnson) as a matter of course. Arrivals and departure via QEC and Lake Johnson will continue to be the preferred and predominant procedure for helicopters at Queenstown.

I have discussed your concerns with Glen and Todd. We are monitoring the introduction of the new procedures and seeking operational feedback from all parties.  I’ve confirmed that we will incorporate a review of any impact on neighbouring residential areas as part of this process.  Whilst we have not consulted with residents for the reasons described above, a briefing on the changes to procedures is scheduled for the next Queenstown Airport Liaison Committee. We will also include this correspondence so that the QALC is aware. There are a number of additional ways residents can get in touch with us – or through the Noise Liaison Committee.

All aircraft movements at Queenstown Airport are included in our annual noise compliance report. You’ve asked about helicopter movements. Over the last three years there were 19,500 helicopter movements in FY20, 24,943 in FY21 and 17,611 in FY22. We do not have a discreet ten-year forecast for helicopter movements. However, our commitment to operate within our existing noise boundaries encompasses all aircraft movements.

Emailed questions from We Love Wakatipu, December 19, 2022, after initial email a week earlier failed to elicit details (not all questions answered, but considering the season, likely as good as we’ll get):

  • Do these updated procedures mean that helicopters are now going to be routed over Kelvin Peninsula, Kawarau Falls and Frankton (as opposed to via QEC and Lake Johnson) as a matter of course?
  • What quantum will this translate to on an average daily basis, and during summer/winter peaks?
  • Are these going to be captured in the “bucket of noise” allowable under the ANB or, because they are not scheduled, are they excluded from this monitoring?
  • Can you please confirm/deny/correct my understanding that QAC has decided to split fixed wing from helicopter arrival/departure protocols because of several incidences where safety was put at risk?
  • Your comment that there is no change to the way emergency services operate: does that mean that helicopters will use the arrival/departure route over QEC and Lake Johnson outside of the 6 am to 10 pm window?
  • What are the stats for helicopter use of ZQN over the past three years and what is the forecast for 10 years hence?
  • What consideration was given to the residential amenity of residents in QAC’s decision?
  • Why was there no consultation with prior to your decision or informing of residents or their residents associations after your decision?
  • You have not publicly announced this change. What communication channels are there to allow residents affected by it to give you feedback in an accountable and transparent way?
  • Where and how will you make this knowledge public?
  • If this change in protocols proves untenable for residents, what other options are at hand?

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