One hundred angry residents of a Whangārei coastal community are stepping up their fight against the Northland emergency rescue helicopter base shifting to Onerahi Airport.
The residents met last week, galvanising their fight as the countdown begins on the Northland emergency rescue helicopter base shifting to Onerahi from Kensington within 17 months.
The shift will bring 1300 return helicopter flights a year - about 25 a week - into the airport – with around 30 per cent or just under 400 of those - at night.
The group is looking at getting legal advice over the shift as well as seeking an urgent please explain public meeting with Whangārei District Council and Northland Emergency Services Trust (NEST).
A petition calling on the council not to proceed with shifting the base to the airport has also been launched, with an action group established, and a Facebook page is being set up.
"We have to fight this," Robyn Robinson, an airport neighbour said.
Airport neighbour Neil Pemberton said there had been few noise issues from the airport for 18 years, since previous problems had been mostly effectively dealt with. But the trust's pending arrival would see noise problems return.
WDC on November 11 unanimously decided at an extraordinary council meeting, to support NEST's request to shift the helicopter base from Kensington to Onerahi. That decision, without community consultation, has incensed airport neighbours.
Kaiwaka Rd resident Emma Heise said she was already traumatised from living with constant helicopter noise in an African war zone. The prospect of hundreds of new helicopter trips flying over her house was extremely worrying.
Beach Rd's Robinson said she had lived through the trauma of 11,000 earthquakes in Christchurch and had come home to Onerahi for a quiet serene life. The sudden arrival of 1300 helicopter flights would aggravate her likely post-traumatic stress disorder from the never-ending earthquakes.
"Once those helicopters start they will never stop. They will just keep coming and coming," she said.
"If the helicopters come here it will feel like Rambo on your roof at three in the morning," Robinson said.
WDC chief executive Rob Forlong said the council had not been in touch with the community prior to the November decision due to the confidential nature of initial discussions with NEST as a result of commercial decisions involved.
Mayor Sheryl Mai said at November's meeting the shift would be dramatic for some Onerahi residents. WDC could listen to community concerns but it was important to be realistic as it would not be possible to completely remedy those concerns.
Two weeks down the track from that meeting, neither WDC or NEST have initiated face to face communication with affected residents – in spite of the need for communication with them being identified as crucial in the council's decision. Both organisations have instead usually answered concerned calls from residents, and the trust has set up an FAQ section on its website.
NEST chairman Paul Ahlers said the trust knew its move to Onerahi would disturb residents.
"We realise that our move to Onerahi will bring some disturbance to residents living in the area, and we are truly sorry about that. We do try wherever possible, to work with local residents to reduce the impact of our operations in their neighbourhood," Ahlers said.
Residents at the Onerahi community meeting generally described their seaside peninsula suburb as currently quiet and peaceful, in spite of living alongside the airport as it operated currently.
Beach Road resident Miles Brown said the noise from regular scheduled plane flights was quite different from that of constant, unscheduled emergency helicopter flights coming and going, around the clock, day in and day out.
Brown said Onerahi residents' health and wellbeing mattered just as much as that of those who lived around Kensington base.
Ahlers said noise issues were not the only reason the base was being moved from Kensington.
"We have simply outgrown our Kensington base. We now have three operational aircraft and 25 staff operating at the base. It is too small," Ahlers said.
"Our existing base is also adjacent to a busy sports field which we often use for approach and departure from/to the base. We would prefer to have an approach/departure area which is controlled with no people or property in the immediate vicinity."
Airport neighbour Carol Doherty, a longtime member of the original WDC airport noise management committee, said NEST had previously looked at shifting to Onerahi in 2014 but not done so due to community noise concerns.
"So, what's changed?," she said.
WDC manager district development Tony Collins said at November's meeting the 2014 change of mind was because of concerns about the airport's future.
"NEST now understands the airport is likely to remain operating from Onerahi for at least 10 years and on that basis, they would be prepared to recommit to the airport, and then work alongside council to discuss any future move together," Collins said.
Ahlers said the trust had not yet initiated communication with residents because it had only received WDC approval on November 11 and had processes to work through.
The trust ran a 'fly neighbourly' programme which looked to find ways to help it reduce noise and emissions without compromising safety or effectiveness.
"This programme has been in place for several years now at Kensington, and has had a positive impact with our neighbours in the area."
It would attend a public meeting organised by the community if asked and also work with the reformed Whangarei airport noise management committee.
Forlong said the council would work with the community and NEST "when/if" the trust finalised its decisions about its requested shift to Onerahi.
Ahlers said the trust was now negotiating over exactly where the base would be located at the airport and its layout.
The proposed move to Onerahi had been driven primarily due to the airport location. The airport site gave full compliance with civil aviation regulations, enhanced safety and close proximity to the hospital, he said.
Forlong said the District Plan permitted helicopter and other aviation activities at the airport and the area had special zoning to allow this.
"We are not in a position to object to or seek submissions on a proposal for an aviation business to operate in an area where the activity is permitted as of right," Forlong said.