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Royal Hobart Hospital Helipad Noise

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Wednesday, 21 June 2023

Tags: Parliament

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Mr Speaker, I have a matter I need to raise on the adjournment. Although I did want to talk about the helicopters, which are now regularly flying over the city of Hobart as a result of the new helipad on the roof of the Royal Hobart Hospital. As members will know, the helipad was operational as of May 2020, and since then, what we have learnt through Right to Information is that 34 per cent of all the landings on the helipad are emergency medical services flights, 14 per cent training flights, 28 per cent search and rescue, 14 per cent transfer flights and 9 per cent operations flights. The reason this matters is that my constituents who live in New Town and Glebe, as a result of a changed flight path, are now under regular and increasing noise suffering from helicopters flying in over residential areas to land at the helipad. Members will know that when emergency flights used to come in they would land at the Regatta Ground and the patient would be shipped up to the Royal. Now, patients are being taken straight to the Royal Hobart Hospital on the helipad but the flight path has changed. No longer do those flights go over the river. They come in directly over residential areas and over Glebe and New Town and up Campbell Street.

We tried to understand in Estimates why there had been such an intensification of helicopter flights over residential areas and we are still no clearer. The reason that this matters is that when you are living in a residential area and you have not one or two flights a day, it is now three or four or five flights quite often in a day, coming in over residential areas and sometimes at night. The noise recordings, which have been insufficient so far, show that the noise levels in and around Glebe are around 90 decibels. We would like to understand why, since 2020, the flight path has been over residential areas with no apparent regard for the amenity of people living in and around Glebe and New Town. We know it is possible to change the flight paths because when a crane was up near the helipad last year, I believe the alternative flight path was provided for and the helicopters were coming through the river and it was entirely possible.

Ambulance Tasmania wrote to one of the Glebe residents and said that they are only emergency flights that are coming in. The Ambulance Tasmania letter to three of the residents said:

The helicopters that utilise the Royal Hobart Hospital helipad are only ever dispatched to critically unwell patients or patients in rural and remote areas that are not able to be transferred by road ambulance.

The Right to Information documents that we have demonstrate that is not true. It is about 34 per cent of the flights, a third of the flights that are coming in over residential areas that are emergency flights. Remember, it costs somewhere in the vicinity of $5000 an hour for these chopper flights. These are contracted services. Of course, it is extremely important that we have good emergency transport systems for people who are facing a medical emergency, but we are concerned that the concerns of Glebe and New Town and other city residents have been dismissed by the Health department and Government. When some Glebe residents sought to have a meeting with the Health minister and then deputy premier about this, he said 'go away'.

We are calling on the Health minister to have a serious look at this issue. It is unacceptable to have so many flights coming in over residential areas. It is questionable that so many of the flights that are coming in over Glebe and New Town are not emergency flights. We would like to understand why it is possible when there is a crane in the city that the pilots need to avoid, the choppers can come up the river and not disturb the amenity of Hobart residents, but then suddenly when the crane has gone, these flights are coming back in over residential areas.

We have an unsatisfactory answer from the minister at the Estimates table. We think there should be more respect for the local residents of Hobart. People under that chopper flight path are suffering. The noise levels are extreme and they have been disregarded and it is completely unacceptable. We would like to hear the Minister for Health come in and explain how this situation has come about, why there are now so many more chopper flights. Emergency landings at the Regatta Ground used to be quite infrequent. Now we have patient transport, not emergency flights, that are coming in over the homes of people in this beautiful city.

It is not acceptable. It needs to be re-examined. If it was only about the Civil Aviation Safety Authority requirements, and if that was the only flight path, then why was it possible to change that flight path when circumstances demanded it? For some reason or another, there has been intensification of helicopter use, probably because the helipad is there now. There has been an increase in the number of flights that are not emergency transport flights. It is causing suffering to my constituents in Glebe and New Town.

We want the Health minister to do something about it, because in no other capital city, we believe, would it be tolerated that helicopters come in flying so low over homes and so frequently, causing so much distress to residents. The Minister for Health needs to get onto this and sort it out.