We are pleased to announce that here has been steady progress towards regulating helicopters over Waiheke Island over the last few months – the fruit of a sustained campaign by Quiet Sky Waiheke, solid work by the Waiheke Local Board, Councillor Pippa Coom, and MP Chlöe Swarbrick, and significant media coverage, both locally and nationally. Our website is a trove of information that contains details of much of this work and the media coverage.

After initially refusing to countenance a Plan Change, Auckland Council’s planning strategy team have now recognised there is a problem and are suggesting not only that there might be a Plan Change, but also that it might towards the end of this year, as outlined in a recent opinion piece by the Chief Planning Office’s Chief of Strategy. Something that council will need to give effect to is National Planning Standard 15 (p66), which specifically states that the practice of averaging noise effects from helicopters over a period of time (which diminishes their apparent impact on paper) is no longer to be used in District Plan rules.

Meanwhile, council compliance officers have been making their first attempts to quantify helicopter usage and mis-usage (though they are still waiting on some significant helipad operators on Waiheke to divulge the data that they are supposed to have been collecting under their consent conditions) and their first attempts to exchange data with the Civil Aviation Authority.

The Director and Deputy Chief Executive of the Civil Aviation Authority visited Waiheke to meet with Quiet Sky Waiheke and the Local Board, and although they are under-resourced and we don’t expect rapid action from them, they have shown that they are willing to engage, and we hope that they will play a more proactive role in limiting and reversing the impacts of helicopter activity over Waiheke Island. In the first instance, we are pressing them to clarify that Western Waiheke is a congested area and not a rural area.

However, the CAA are largely rule enforcers, rather than rule makers. That is why it has been especially good to have had some success in achieving change to the Civil Aviation Bill, which is currently progressing through Parliament. The Minister of Transport is set to be granted greater powers to, firstly, make rules for the purpose of ‘regulating the effect or potential effect of civil aviation on people, activities, and things’, and secondly, to make rules for noise abatement purposes that are not limited to the vicinity of aerodromes (as they were in the current legislation). In general, the proposed Bill places more emphasis on managing the adverse effects of civil aviation on the environment than the extant Bill. As soon as it has been passed into law, we propose to ask the Minister of Transport to use these new powers to make a rule to better protect Waiheke from the adverse effects of helicopters on people and wildlife.

Our biggest disappointment has been with the council planners who have been processing the applications for helipads. They have failed to consult with the CAA over the safety and feasibility of flightpaths, have failed to adequately consider noise effects beyond the limit that defines the activity status, have failed to consider statutory documents like the New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement, and have failed to consult with DOC over impacts on marine reserves, biodiversity focus areas, and scheduled significant ecological areas (see 105 Te Matuku Bay, starting on page 77), and have therefore, we believe, processed and then granted consents incorrectly.

However, a Helicopter Practice and Guidance Note has just been released by Council, in response to requests by Quiet Sky Waiheke and the Waiheke Local Board. Many of the things that council planning reports have dismissed as irrelevant have now been identified in the Practice Note as, in fact, being relevant. Quiet Sky Waiheke are of the opinion that if this Practice Note had been available during processing of the recent Oneroa Bay and Te Matuku Bay consents, that a much wider range of effects would have been considered, and that the consents would likely not have been granted. However, the rules themselves have not changed, and we have consistently pointed out to council’s planners that those aspects were relevant. We are researching options for redressing these past errors…whilst being hopeful that the planners will self-correct for future applications.

Thank you for your support so far. Stay with us as we embark on our last push to regain safe and quiet skies over Waiheke Island. Please share this post with others and encourage them to follow and support Quiet Sky Waiheke!