Council passes motion to reduce aircraft noise

By Katie Johnson

The City of Melbourne (CoM) has unanimously passed a motion to discourage non-essential flight patterns over the city after prolonged pressure from East Melbourne residents.

The Fly Neighbourly Agreement (FNA) will see the council educate flight operators about the human impact of their flights and attempt to deter them from flying above residential areas.   

Cr Rohan Leppert, who raised the motion at the Future Melbourne Committee (FMC) meeting on February 16, said although the council didn’t have the regulatory power to compel aircrafts to change their flight paths, it could facilitate voluntary commitments from flight operators.

“We’ve heard loud and clear the health impacts completely unregulated aircraft movements are having on the residents of East Melbourne,” Cr Leppert said.

“It is intolerable that a helicopter can hover over a house for indefinite periods and cause direct medical harm to those underneath if that flight isn’t essential.”

East Melbourne Group amenities convener Susan Henderson strongly supported the motion, as many of the flights were joy and training related with aircraft circling overhead “up to 30 times” and hovering for extended periods.

“There been a significant increase in the number and duration of flights over our homes in recent years,” Ms Henderson said.

“We’re often unable to enjoy normal conversation, even inside our houses, with the noise coming through closed doors and windows resulting in paused conversations, video and phone calls, and the inability to hear TV and radio.”

Ms Henderson also said the noise resulted in pets being “disturbed and stressed”, disrupted those working from home, and disturbed sleep.

“The aircraft noise is a severe impediment to productivity and causes a great deal in the working and studying environment,” she said.

“This noise is not only a nuisance but there are many studies which have shown that aircraft noise can cause significant health impacts particularly due to stress and disturbed sleep.”

“Frequent loud noise, especially when disturbing sleep, is an internationally recognised form of torture and our residents are suffering unnecessarily.”

As flights will begin to pick up as COVID restrictions ease, Cr Leppert said now was the time to instate the FNA and work with the state government to better regulate flight paths over the inner city.

“Once flights pick up it would be harder to intervene and instate a fly neighbourly agreement,” Cr Leppert said.

“Done well, an FNA is a boon to business because it provides certainty to all parties and it allows operators to get about their business without having to deal with a gamut of complaints.”

East Melbourne Group (EMG) has been campaigning for years to reduce aircraft noise over the suburb and has set up a dedicated committee to deal with the issue.

It has been particularly vocal about non-essential light fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters, which created noise levels up to 85 decibels – the level at which hearing damage begins to occur.

EMG is calling for aircraft to avoid flying over residential areas in the inner city and instead strive to fly along the Yarra River and the sporting and railway precincts north of the Yarra where possible.

It is also advocating for no pilot training to occur over East Melbourne, controlled airspace to be expanded to include East Melbourne, and traffic and news helicopters to be limited.

Cr Leppert said the council could work to enable a dialogue between operators and residents.

“I know the East Melbourne Group and the sub-committee that’s been specifically set up for dealing with aircraft noise and all of the related issues knows that council doesn’t have any direct regulatory power, but we can facilitate this voluntary agreement with operators,” he said.

Lord Mayor Sally Capp said that although many helicopter flights provided essential services to the community such as Ambulance Victoria and Victoria Police, residents had a right to peace and quiet.

“As a Docklands resident I experience helicopters flying from early morning until late at night,” the Lord Mayor said.

“Many residents have been concerned for a long period of time about helicopters flying and hovering over their homes and the impact that has on their physical and mental health and the liveability of our city.” •

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