October 29th 2008
Island chopper service mooted
Magnetic Times recently made mention that a company is interested in operating a commercial helicopter link to Magnetic Island and was looking at the old Nelly Bay emergency pad as its likely entry/exit point. Since then we have received quite a few letters about the project. We have also been contacted by Mr Gair Bowbyes who is seeking expressions of interest in the project on behalf of Microflite, a Melbourne based company. Mr Bowbyes has provided us with an extensive press release about the project. We have reproduced it in its entirety below.
Helicopter Operations - Magnetic Island
As a handful of residents and commercial operators to the Island are already aware, I represent an organisation that is investigating the potential for a Helicopter Link to Magnetic Island.
I am acutely aware of the risks of disinformation colouring the future acceptability of such a proposal. I would like to take the opportunity, therefore, to outline our proposal and the steps we aim to undertake. Our highest priority is community support, through full disclosure and consultation, as we step through the process. It is therefore prudent that we share this information with you at this, our earliest practical, opportunity.
The goal is to link Magnetic Island with the Airport and various attractions on the mainland via an on-demand, low-volume, low-impact Helicopter Operation. In addition to the Airport, the proposed links on the mainland include Jupiters Casino, Billabong Sanctuary, Willows Golf Course, Prawn North, Hidden Valley Cabins and on-demand work with SunFerries. The list is growing daily as we have received an extremely encouraging response via local Expressions of Interest.
We propose a single helicopter operation utilizing an aircraft referred to as the Eurocopter EC120. The helicopter is near-new with a $2.5million replacement cost. Capable of transporting four passengers plus the pilot, the helicopter is presented in corporate trim, with leather interior, Bose headsets and an integrated iPod sound system. The Helicopter is fitted with an emergency pop-out float system for flights over water. In short, it is a stunning and luxuriously appointed aircraft.
The three pilots likely to be flying the Helicopter in question have in excess of 75 years of flying experience between them. All three received their flight training and experience from within the ADF. They are highly respected within their field of expertise.
Noise and Environmental Impact
A new-generation Eurocopter helicopter flying overhead at 1,000 ft. altitude has a perceivable noise of 68 dB. Compared to regular road traffic, a car will be perceived at 72 dB and a motorcycle at 73 dB. The 5dB split between the noise level produced by the helicopter, and the noise level produced by a motorbike, is the equivalent of, approximately, a 30% reduction in volume. Please keep in mind that this information is valid for the very large helicopters that Eurocopter manufactures. The smallest and lightest helicopter that Eurocopter produces is the EC120. Given that it is lighter, it does not need to displace as much air to remain airborne. This further lessens noise generation and results in absolutely minimal downwash under the rotors. In other words, it produces nothing like the noise and downwash of the Queensland EMS helicopter, with which most residents would be familiar.
The EC120 is one of only three helicopter types (EC120, EC130 and EC135) capable of meeting the strictest noise abatement regulations in the World - those of the Grand Canyon National Park Standard in the USA. This is the result of continuous research into "quiet technologies" to which a large portion of Eurocopter's R&D resources are devoted.
In any case it should be made clear that no operations shall be conducted to the Island without a well-advertised series of trials. Said trials will offer the opportunity for community attendance, comment and consultation. Though it is the quietest helicopter available, it is still a helicopter. It is not, and could never be, completely silent. My family and I very much enjoy and appreciate the calm of Magnetic Island. We have no interest in shattering that calm. I wish to remain open and available for enquiries, advice and new information as deemed requisite by the residents and operators of Magnetic Island.
The old emergency helipad at Nelly Bay
Two landing areas on the Island are currently being considered in parallel; the 'original' Helipad in Nelly Bay, and the Country Club at Picnic Bay.
Nelly Bay - The original helipad in Nelly Bay offers several significant advantages over other areas of the Island. From a helicopter operator's point of view, the principle advantage is safety. The pad allows for a relatively shallow approach and departure that keeps the helicopter clear of obstacles. This allows for greater power margins in the operation of the helicopter, which further enhances the safe operation of the aircraft. (Please note: we are aware of the overhead wires beyond the pad). The location also allows for an approach and departure that eliminates the over-fly of any property or dwelling, enhancing the safety and further mitigating an environmental impact. Whilst the EPA has confirmed that operations to the pad will not affect the Nature Refuge adjacent the pad, there are plans for trials to the pad. At this time further community consultation shall be sought with respect any concerns that may be raised. The fact that the trees and established vegetation of the Nature Refuge further attenuate any potential noise impact of the helicopter upon local residents is seen as an additional, major advantage.
With respect the 'original' Nelly Bay Pad, there is a recognized prior use of the area as a helipad. It offers excellent and safe access in an appropriate location that is convenient for visitors to the Island, presents well and offers a very pleasant island atmosphere upon arrival. Limited and controlled access to the pad, at the discretion of the Council, and fine-tunable to meet the requests of the residents, allows for a limited impact service to be run effectively and reasonably.
Magnetic Island Country Club - The possibility of transporting Golfers directly to the golf course in Picnic Bay will prove a major boon for the Island. There are ample areas to land with no requirement to over fly any dwellings or cause any discomfort to any of the local residents. There is no reason to over fly any portion of the National Park either. Approaches and departures can be made to/from the North West. Again, it is anticipated that trials be conducted to asses the suitability of the proposal
Profits generated by the Country Club roll over into community projects that can benefit the entire Island.
New Nelly Bay Helipad? - No doubt some will wonder why we have not pursued the use of the new helipad on the spit in Nelly Bay. Effectively the land that forms the spit is owned by DNRW, but the area was never excised from GBRMPA responsibility. Queensland Transport then leases the land that the pad is on, from DNRW, and operates to a limited permit through GBRMPA, for use by the EMS Helicopter Service only. DNRW, as the owners of the land, will not allow the pad to be used for any commercial venture.
All told, this is a good thing. If we were capable of making a legal case to operate to the new pad in Nelly Bay, the new pad would be thrown open to any commercial operator in the region, with any type of helicopter, to operate multiple sorties from that location each day. The potential would then be extant for massive disruption to the calm of Nelly Bay. There is an issue regards the erstwhile use of the pad as a public thoroughfare to the harbour entrance. In addition, beautification of the area poses its own challenges. (Because the spit is still under GBRMPA jurisdiction, one must be careful to eliminate the nutrient run-off from landscaping that would threaten the reef ecosystem. Low loam soils and adaptable plants must be sourced so as to meet with GBRMPA advice). Ultimately, the use of the 'new pad' at Nelly Bay would likely result in a significantly higher environmental and residential impact than the restricted operations proposed for the 'original' pad in Nelly Bay.
Type of Operations
The intention is to link Magnetic Island with other attractions and locations in the region, thus providing an on-demand, rapid transport link to tourists, visitors and residents alike. Certainly such a presence and potential experience has the ability of raising the profile of the Island in the minds, and memories, of its visitors.
It must be emphasized that a high volume operation is neither proposed nor intended. In other words, it is not an operation that would see multiple, ten minute sorties being flown from Nelly Bay. The pad would be used to drop off or pick up passengers that wish to travel to/from the aforementioned destinations. Occasionally the helicopter may be shut-down on the pad awaiting the arrival of a group. There may be limited opportunities to bring more visitors to the Island under specific, event-oriented circumstances. Two examples would be ferry flights from a visiting Ocean Liner, or shuttles from the yet-to-be-built, Reid Park Race Track during the proposed Townsville 400 Event.
Given the height and lateral offset restrictions imparted by the QPWS with respect the Magnetic Island National Park, it is unlikely that a scenic tour of the Island would prove viable. Most helicopter scenic flights are conducted nationally at 500' above obstacles. The 1500' restriction imposed would seriously degrade the experience. We are not planning, nor would we ever be granted, access to land within the National Park boundaries, including Five Beach Bay.
Overall, in terms of understanding the goal, the emphasis is placed upon a low-volume, on-demand shuttle service. In an ideal world the Helicopter Service would dovetail with as many of the Island's commercial operators as possible, attempting, through efficient coordination, to morph individual experiences into a singular, satisfying and rewarding experience for the visitors and residents that choose to avail themselves. Whilst operating to the various mainland attractions and destinations I foresee that the Helicopter could also take up an informal role as a recognisable 'ambassador' to the Island, enhancing the signature value of the Island in the eyes of the local residents and visitors.
The success or otherwise of this venture hinges almost entirely upon the degree of support from the Community. To that end I plan to establish a website advising those with a vested interest of the progress and ongoing considerations, thus offering an additional medium for consultation and information distribution. Individual and group meetings, mailbox drops, local advertising and letters to the Magnetic Times are further avenues to bolster the consultative experience.
All going well, we would like to be up and running by Christmas time. However, the priority must be that the Project maintain its integrity throughout the consultative process. If that very process were to delay an arbitrarily proposed date for initiation of the service, sobeit.
The Process outline is proposed as follows:
Introduction of Proposal and Management of Disinformation.
Advertise Intent - Proposal Outline (link to project-oriented webpage hub for consultation coordination).
Seek community input and consultation - First Pass
Seek Limited Council Approval for flight trials to be conducted to both locations
Advertise Intent - Flight Trials to be conducted to both locations
Flight Trials conducted with maximum community attendance
Seek community input and consultation - Second Pass
Information assessment and issue resolution in conjunction with the community and TCC
(If successful, seek final Council Approval)
Advertise a "go"/"no go" decision - if "no go" the reasons shall be made public also.
We are committed to addressing concerns and working with the community to ensure initial and ongoing support for what we believe is a significant Service to the Island.
I understand that the process must be open and consultative for it to succeed. I would therefore encourage any resident or operator on the Island to contact me with their thoughts or concerns, at any time. I am also open to advice from residents and operators as to any specific element of the Helicopter Service that they would benefit from. I am keen for the Island to share a sense of ownership in this Project. I would be delighted to present to any interested body. I believe that there are additional possibilities such as school visits to the helicopter whilst in-situ, work with Navy Cadets, SES projects, local assistance for low environmental impact construction works etc.
I look forward to any and all correspondence on the issue.
Mob. 0417 467 866
To add your comment,
or read those of others, see below