Helicopter noise unavoidable at airport

Sea King training flights exempt from noise rules under federal government regulations

Sea Kings at rest at 443 Maritime Helicopter Squadron’s hangar facility at the Victoria airport.

Flight crews with the 443 Maritime Helicopter Squadron at the Victoria airport put in around 2,000 hours of training time every year and while most of their work is done far away from residential neighbourhoods, there are noise complaints.

It comes with the territory, says Major Dale Arndt, operations officer for the squadron.

He said 90 per cent of their training flights are done away from people’s homes, often over the water and away from the airport proper. Yet, he said there have been close to a dozen formal complaints made this year about the noise from their Sea King helicopters.

That’s down a bit from last year, when Arndt said there were closer to 15 complaints made.

Those are formal complaints, not phone calls after which the caller does not go any further.

In recent weeks, the Peninsula News Review has received phone calls and emails from residents angry about the noise from what they call low-flying helicopters.

Christine Bender, who lives on Amherst Avenue,  is aware she bought her home near the airport and does expect a certain amount of noise.

She says, however, that over the last 20 years aircraft traffic has increased — and so has the noise.

“It is an issue,” she said. “(The helicopters) are becoming the major source of noise in Sidney, day and night.”

Ken Linford, a resident in Summergate Village in Sidney, told the News Review he too doesn’t like the noise level coming from the squadron’s training flights. He’s also worried about the age of the Sea King helicopters and the danger of a crash. Linford said he would like the flight paths of the helicopters to move one or two kilometres to the south, to bypass his neighbourhood.

“Train in another area that’s all we ask,” he said.

Bender noted that the noise seems to be more intense during the summer months, an observation Arndt doesn’t disagree with.

“We tend to get complaints at night and mostly in the June to August time frame,” he said, noting that during the summer darkness falls later in the day and people leave their windows open and are enjoying their backyards later.

The squadron must conduct some of their training at night, Arndt explained, and during the summer that can’t happen until 10 p.m. or later. In the fall and winter, darkness comes much earlier — as do the crews’ night proficiency training flights.

Arndt said the squadron complies with NavCan policies and procedures and the helicopters fly at 1,100 feet, as per policy, barring takeoffs and landings — which seem to be the noisiest moments of flight, say the neighbours. Exceptions come into play, he continued, when the crews are ordered by air traffic control to another airspace due to airport traffic.

James Bogusz, operations manager at the Victoria Airport Authority (VAA), said the military training flights come and go as required by the Department of National Defence and he’s not aware of any flights that have breached altitude restrictions, even during takeoffs and landings.

Bogusz said the military has an exemption from airport noise policies but adds 443 Squadron does attend the VAA’s bi-annual noise committee meetings.

“They’re under no obligation, bout they do it because it’s the right thing,” he said.

While he agreed night training exercises are a concern for local residents, at the end of the day the military needs to train.

Arndt said the squadron has been at the airport for 25 years and needs to train to maintain their expertise. Going elsewhere, he said, is unlikely and training further afield would only deplete their budget. He noted that under federal rules, the airport authority cannot enforce its noise standards against the government of Canada — in this case the military.

He added the crews fly most often at night on Mondays and Tuesdays, to keep things predictable for residents. Arndt said they do try to respond to complaints and avoid excessive noise, but if people live within the control zone of the airport, that’s not possible.

“There’s a limit to how much a large helicopter can do.”