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Talking noise boundaries

Updated: Oct 7, 2020

Queenstown Airport Corporation (QAC) is discussing the extension of airport noise boundaries that will enable it to meet much, but not all, of its forecasted demand for flight capacity over the next 27 years.  QAC is asking for community feedback on its first step – extending noise boundaries to allow for more flights.

QAC’s plans have been presented on a special website and at several community meetings, of which I attended three. As I see it, QAC has forecast demand and then put together a plan to accommodate the majority of that demand. QAC is a corporation. To do this is its job.  We are the community and majority owner and our job is to provide feedback and offer clear direction on what we want, including the level of growth we feel we can support.

30 years of growth, bar a few years around the GFC (when growth continued, but slowed to under 2% a year) has been exhausting.  Globally, tourism is exploding and demand for the world’s least damaged places is insatiable.  Overbooked was my background read to understand as best I could the global issue and I’ve kept up with news reports of the unwanted consequences of over-tourism, specifically its cost on communities and environments around the world.

I am also concerned about the cost/benefit ratio of our tourism industry – low wage economy in a high cost district isn’t viable for the long term, indeed the cracks are already showing specifically in housing and employment issues. It’s high time we had the discussion about growth and tourism, but this should be led by the community not the airport.

In the meantime, the issue in front of us is noise boundaries and we need to make sense of the impacts that an extension might have on our lives.  I’ve started with thinking about what we might lose when living, playing and educating inside those new noise boundaries.

At home in lower Robertson St, our family lives within the new proposed outer noise limit boundary. Currently we are affected daily by flights from the 7am alarm of the first plane taking off through til the last landing late in the evening. The current noise levels at home don’t concern me, although when we are outside, or have windows open, we cannot converse over a plane taking off to the west which can be annoying.

The QAC proposal is for noise boundaries that would allow for 41,600 scheduled aircraft movements a year by 2045. We currently have nearly 16,000.  That is a very big difference and will mean a take-off or landing every nearly 4 minutes in a ‘busy hour’.

Life in our well insulated, double-glazed living area with its outdoor flow to a north facing back yard will be very different – untenable I think – under the proposed noise boundaries. The easy out-going Central Otago lifestyle currently enjoyed will be lost for those in this house by 2045 and also for the vast majority, if not all, of the 3800 plus other homes similarly affected. It is not possible to adequately mitigate noise effects through insulation and mechanical ventilation – that can only help while people are inside with doors and windows closed and that is not the lifestyle we now enjoy. Research tells us that exterior noise levels should be the primary consideration when thinking about noise boundaries.

“With regard to new development, noise insulation should be regarded as a measure of last resort. It is not a substitute for good land use compatibility planning in the first place. Exterior noise levels should generally be the primary consideration in evaluation of proposed land uses, especially residential development and other land uses where noise-sensitive outdoor activities are normal and important features.” Source:

I walk and/or bike past Remarkables Primary School every day, I live opposite the Frankton Kindergarten and pass other child care and education facilities in the area most days. Research shows that outdoor school activities will be not only untenable for those within the new 60dB boundaries, but also actively damaging to learning.

“Exposure to 50 dB(A) in the daytime (outside) is associated with relevant learning difficulties in schoolchildren.”  Source:

I am a great admirer and user of the Queenstown trail network and am a representative on the Queenstown Trails Trust. Today as I commute from Frankton to Queenstown on my bike I’ll pause or rewind my audible book 2 – 3 times in the 20 minute journey at certain times of day. In 2040s I most likely won’t be able to listen to it at all in a busy hour.  Nor will I be able to wander the trails talking to others.  Vast tracts of our trails will become generally unusable and highly unattractive for recreation and for commuting. Our emerging biking destination reputation is likely to be seriously harmed, if not lost. Frankton Beach where thousands play in spring, summer and autumn, is likely to be practically unusable as will all beaches both sides of the Frankton Arm.  Is this what we want?

“Aircraft noise is the most significant cause of adverse community reaction related to the operation and expansion of airports. This is expected to remain the case in most regions of the world for the foreseeable future. Limiting or reducing the number of people affected by significant aircraft noise is therefore one of ICAO’s main priorities and one of the Organization’s key environmental goals.”  Source:

Residential activity is identified in the Airport’s plan as an ASAN (Activity Sensitive to Aircraft Noise) The proposed noise boundaries would have negative impacts on the property rights of all 3800 houses because living in those boundaries is an activity sensitive to aircraft noise. How many people is that?  The airport wants to ensure that every one of those properties considers the airport’s needs if they want to renovate, or build a granny flat.  It will work to limit any community aspirations to densify living on prime land within the noise boundaries.  This means much of the sun-drenched Kelvin Peninsula and Frankton Flats will be off limits for higher density living despite their proximity to town, amenities and transport hubs.

To provide some balance to this perspective, we should consider some of the advantages of extending the noise boundaries.  Combined with technology that makes airplanes much more efficient, it will allow many more flights into Queenstown by the most efficient possible use of the airport’s limited space. If the noise boundaries are expanded, we will enjoy more choice of where and with whom we fly, we will likely get even cheaper flight air-services concentrate on this new regional hub, we will definitely have more visitors as barriers to reaching Queenstown are steadily reduced.  QAC notes  we may even have fewer people on our regional roads to Queenstown as more flight services become available.

In this blog, I have pointed out how the new boundaries will impact our community and how we live.  I have focused on those who will be in the new outer noise boundary. However, this is only part of the story, many many more people will be affected adversely.  In the far reaches of our basin people hear and experience rumbling from jet takeoff and landings that are tolerable now, but unlikely to be in the future.  A friend noticed annoying noise levels as she climbed Queenstown Hill recently.

I haven’t talked at all here on the wider impacts of the growth that would be enabled by the enlarged noise boundaries, but these too will be immense as we look to provide for more people and understand how to provide and pay for infrastructure such as transport, sewerage and waste systems for example.

As I go through this listening and consideration process, I am careful to listen to all viewpoints and to avoid any predetermination.  The guidelines for Local Government decision-making is here.  My thinking above is based on reviewing all the information in front of me, including that provided by the airport, research sent to me by community members, my own research, and conversations in the supermarket.

At this point, we are being asked our views about extending noise boundaries, the above represents my view on the consequences of such extension given current understanding. As always, I am open to questions, suggestions, challenges and information. You can contact me at, or on 021 2964255

More reading

This article points out the issues faced in Auckland by increasing aircraft noise enabled by NextGen or performance based navigation (which has also made QAC more efficient)

This research shows noise annoyance is associated with depression and anxiety

DOC research on the impact of aircraft noise on recreators and wildlife

And if you’re super keen –  this book has several authors and heaps of case studies.

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