Friday, December 21, 2012

Not a Private Millpond

Some heavy hitters are weighing in over the State Government's extraordinary decision to approve a helipad in the middle of Sydney Harbour. The line up includes Malcom Turnbull Liberal frontbencher and pollsters favourite to be Australia’s next prime minister, Dick Smith entrepreneur and former CASA chairman, Tourism and Transport Forum chief executive John Lee, Ian Kiernan Clean Up Australia, local state members of parliament and local mayors.

The story was  flagged in July 2012  in the Sydney Morning Herald which reported that The Federal Tourism Minister, Martin Ferguson had granted Harbourside Helicopters Pty Ltd $65,000 to part-fund a study on the best location from which to operate tourism flights over the harbour and to other tourist locations. Tourist organisations have been lobbying for harbour based heliport for some time.

Then in late November the NSW Government's Roads and Maritime Services Agencies approved Newcastle Helicopters to run a floating heliport on a moveable barge in the harbour. The SMH reported that it had obtained documents that showed the NSW government had approved the controversial floating heliport in Sydney Harbour before it had asked about air safety or air traffic control regulations.

Protests started to happening in the affluent suburbs on the harbour. Local members claimed to have known nothing about the decision. The federal Liberal front bencher Malcolm Turnbull labelled the decision ''reckless and undemocratic'' and called for it to be rescinded.

 'The nightmare I've got in my mind is a combination of a summer's afternoon, many hundreds of boats out on the harbour, most of them sailing skiffs, a strong nor-easter, sailing races under way, and these helicopters landing. Seaplanes have to find somewhere with no boats. The problem for the helicopter is he has to land on the barge,'' says Turnbull. ''Who's going to be responsible the first time there is an accident ?''

Naturally, one of the concerns is noise. Newcastle Helicopters commissioned a consultant to test and report the noise levels of helicopters. The report was posted on their website but later taken down perhaps as a result of the SHM which reported that their consultant had admitted he was not an acoustic engineer and had never previously produced a report on helicopter noise. The consultant, a director of the noise testing company, Airport Friendly Solutions, also conceded that he had been wrong to describe himself as a member of the Australian Acoustics [sic] Society. The peak body, which is actually called the Australian Acoustical Society, told Fairfax Media Mr Holden has never been a member, although he used to subscribe to its magazine. A principal of another acoustic consultancy  who examined the initial noise assessment, said ''it has so many errors in it that it says they can't be acoustic consultants''.

Wild Oats near the helipad location

Ian Kiernan, the founder of Clean Up Australia, is quoted in the SMH as saying

 'Wild Oats has got a 40-metre mast,'' ‘'We'll be putting yachts right around it, I tell you. Vertical spears - that will make it pretty hard for them.''

Dick Smith, helicopter pilot and former chair of Chairman of the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) has taken the other side he is quoted in the Daily Telegraph saying
"There was no problem with downdraft  People in other boats would just move a bit away, let the helicopter land or take-off, then move back again."

Perhaps the silliest quote is from Tourism and Transport Forum chief executive John Lee, who proposed the floating heliport as part of The Daily Telegraph's People's Plan, said it was still a working harbour "not a private millpond".

I give the last quote to a sailor, the Commodore of the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron, Malcolm Levy.
''The area I see designated on a plan shows quite a large part of the harbour … used continuously in yacht races and by recreational users. If there's going to be a barge stuck in the harbour, does that mean we are to stop what we've been doing?''

The SMH says for now, the government seems determined to tough out the backlash against the project.

 photo - helicopter hovering over dinghies kindly referred by Doug (Improper Course)

Update 23/12/12
Newcastle Helicopters PR agency  issued a press statement yesterday.

''Effective immediately, Newcastle Helicopters has put the project of the Sydney Harbour Floating Heliport on hold until further notice, in order to consider the feasibility of the operation going forward,'' ''It is Newcastle Helicopters' intention to address the relevant concerns … with thoroughly considered and accurate information, and is taking the appropriate steps to do so.''

Asked what he thought about the heliport announcement, Mr Turnbull said: ''I am not sure what this announcement really means. But our position remains that the government should revoke the licence and if Newcastle Helicopters want to have a floating heliport in the harbour they should make an application that goes through proper planning processes.''

Read more:

In the meantime Sydney Ports has issued a Notice to Mariners effective 26 December, coincidently the start of the Sydney to Horbart yacht race.

Notice is hereby given that areas that can be used for vessel based 

helicopter operations have been established within Sydney Harbour, and 

will become available to operators on Monday 26  December 2012. 


Area 1  Seaplane area in Rose Bay 

Area 2  Between Shark Island and an arc of a circle radius 250m centred on 

position 33º51.374’S 151º15.496’E 

Area 3  Within a circle radius 250m centred on position 33º 51.068'S 151º 

14.327'E off Athol No 4 Buoy 

Area 4  Within the area bounded by 33º 51.2407'S 151º 13.7208’E, 33º 51.2792'S 

151º 14.3650’E, 33º51.3486'S 151º 13.7115’E, 33º51.3872'S 151º 

14.3557’E – between Fort Denison and Bradley’s Head 

Vessel based helicopter operations involve helicopters landing onto, or 
taking off from, a vessel underway.   Such vessels will indicate that 
helicopter operations are underway by displaying a high intensity 
flashing magenta light. 

By direction of the Harbour Master, helicopter operations will be 
suspended whilst there are vessels within 100m of a vessel engaged in 
helicopter operations. 

A notification on which area is in use will be included in the hourly 
information message broadcast by Sydney Ports VTS on VHF Channel 13. 

Philip Holliday                    30 November 2012                                        
Harbour Master                             
Sydney Ports Corporation

Read more:


  1. This is an incredibly dumb idea. I lived in Sydney for years and always enjoy returning. Helicopters would ruin much of what makes the harbor great. People like Dick Smith should check out helicopter downdrafts here:,r:1,s:0,i:91

    Tourists who want a great view of the harbor from high up should try the!!

  2. Thanks Doug, great photo of the helicopter downdraft, I have added it to the post.

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