More than 1000 Northland's rescue helicopter flights annually could soon be taking off and landing at Onerahi airport as noise complaints force the service out of its existing Kensington base.
Northland Emergency Services Trust (NEST) rescue helicopter service is looking to move to Onerahi airport next year in the wake of growing noise complaints at its existing Kensington base.
Whangārei District Council (WDC) will on Thursday consider the shift at an extraordinary council meeting.
Tony Collins, WDC manager district development, said NEST faced increased complaints from local residents living around the service's existing Kensington Park site.
"Over time NEST's operation has grown both in the number of helicopters operating and the frequency of flights. This has led to an escalation in complaints from residents and an acceptance from NEST that their continued operation at this location is unlikely to be sustainable in the future," Collins said.
Collins' recommendation to councillors, for the extraordinary meeting, is that the council enters into a Memorandum of Understanding with NEST regarding the proposed new location. He said NEST was seeking council approval in principle for the more.
NEST responded to 1115 callouts last year – its busiest ever.
News of the shift has been greeted with concern by Onerahi resident Paul Doherty, who lives alongside the airport.
"I'm anxious about the impact on our quality of life from the noise intrusion. It's a very big noise," Doherty said.
He said NEST was a valuable service, but it depended on a lot of community goodwill.
Doherty said those behind the shift needed to make sure they considered the helicopters' impact on the lives of neighbours surrounding the site.
He was among angry community members whose lobbying in 2014 resulted in helicopter training at that time being shifted from the airport.
He said the community generally did not have a problem with the airport and its fixed-wing planes taking coming and going. That noise came and went. But helicopters hovering and training were a different story, some of the latter lasting for an hour.
"Helicopters hovering are really difficult. The tenure of the noise is annoying," he said.
Doherty has already met NEST, WDC and airport management over the noise from existing NEST training already happening at the airport.
He said any NEST shift needed to include the trust shifting its helicopter training to somewhere other than Onerahi airport.
Doherty said double glazing and noise insulation requirements for new and renovated houses around the airport were not a practical solution. People wanted to spend time outside too.
"We can't really enjoy an evening outside, that's the level of noise intrusion," he said of when the helicopters hovered.
NEST and WDC see noise issues at Onerahi airport as among the biggest helicopter shift challenges.
"The negative impact of transference of a noise issue away from one community to a similar impact on another should not be overlooked," Collins said.
Kensington resident Roger de Bray made noise complaints against the current rescue helicopter site earlier this year.
He was pleased the shift away from Kensington Park was potentially progressing.
Another Kensington resident Allan Kerrisk, who has spent thousands of dollars insulating his home against noise from the existing site, said it was good news the helicopter service was moving.
But he said Onerahi was not the best place for it to go to.
"There are better sites than Onerahi because the impact that it could potentially have on the residents of Onerahi in terms of noise," Kerrisk said.
"It's not the best solution, it's the easiest," he said.
Collins said Onerahi airport was NEST's preferred location.
The trust wanted to resurrect a draft 2014 agreement with WDC to swap NEST's Kensington Park property for disused WDC-owned clubrooms and hangar buildings at the airport.