Waiheke residents reach breaking point over helicopters

Residents on Auckland's Waiheke Island are reaching breaking point as helicopters take over their once-peaceful skies.

A lobby group wants a pause on new helipads being approved, and the traffic to be regulated.

For some, a helicopter ride to a glitzy vineyard or luxury home is all part of the Waiheke experience.

But for those on the ground it's a different story.

"Oh, it's noisy," one resident said.

"Hate them, hate them, hate them. It's just intrusive, and there's too many of them," said another.

Another resident told Newshub helicopters regularly flew over his house and spooked his dogs.

"We've got billionaires here who think they can just fly in when they like with no flight plan. It's not good, we've got to get rid of them," he said.

Many Waiheke residents moved there for the tranquility. Local board chair Cath Handley says they've reached a tipping point with their tolerance.

"It is a free-for-all," she says.

Waiheke is just 92km2 but is home to 49 helipads and heliports.

That's 41 more than Singapore, which is nearly eight times the size.

"Nowhere, I think you'll find, in the world, are there so many landing places for helicopters in such a small area," says Waiheke resident Kim Whitaker.

He is part of lobby group Quiet Sky Waiheke.

"It's not just a bunch of NIMBY Waiheke residents who want to stop helicopters flying over our houses. We are genuinely facing a potential helicopter problem," he explains.

While noise was the reason the group was set up, Whitaker says it now has a bigger concern.

"None of us want to see a helicopter accident," Whitaker says.

Helicopters are supposed to take off and fly immediately out to sea. Whitaker claims some are flying over the island - and people's houses - instead, are flying too low, or are taking off and landing more often than they're supposed to.

"Inevitably helicopters will be flying on routes that affect the people on the ground," he says.

And there's the carbon cost: a typical winery trip actually takes four flights; helicopters are unlikely to stay on the ground. And they're big gas guzzlers.

"It still seems crazy in this time of climate crisis, declared by both the Government and Auckland Council, that we are still enabling people to use the most expensive and most damaging means of transport," Whitaker says.

Quiet Sky Waiheke and the local community board want more regulation from Auckland Council and the Civil Aviation Authority.

Starting with tighter rules for new helipad consents, so all applications are publicly notified.

"It feels to me, because nobody can describe how things are being controlled, that therefore it is out of control," says Handley.

In the last year, one application has been approved, while the new owners of Obsidian Vineyard withdrew theirs when they took over and heard about the public opposition.

Three other bids on the island are still in the works, one of which is right next to the popular Oneroa beach. Handley believes the helicopters could start to put off tourists.

"To have the intrusions of helicopters if you are here to visit and enjoy a quiet day on the beach, I would think that's the opposite of what you've come here for. Why not just go camp at the edge of the airport?" says Handley.

Auckland Council approves permits, but the CAA takes responsibility for the airspace.

The CAA has been asked to declare a Special Use Airspace over Waiheke. This would make transponders and location broadcasting mandatory, to keep helicopters accountable.

"You've got to prove the issue, but you would think seeing as all these flights are being monitored and logged, that the data is there and we don't have to prove it at all," Handley says.

Auckland Council's planning team will present a report containing advice and recommendations to the planning committee at the end of the month.

The CAA can't comment while the Special Use Airspace application is still in play. It couldn't give a timeline, as it's still waiting for answers to some operational questions.

"It really doesn't matter where the fault lies. All I need is some authority to put their hand up and go like 'yeah yeah, we're listening, we're looking, and we're going to do something,'" says Handley.

Waiheke residents continue to fight to save the peace and quiet they moved there for.