The Range News is Maleny's premium Weekly Newspaper delivered each Friday
to the People of the Sunshine Coast Hinterland from Glasshouse to
Kenilworth and west to Peachester.

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Zoo axes flights over mountains
but residents still oppose helipad plans

by Simon Roper

Australia Zoo has axed plans to fly tourists directly over the Glass House Mountains in helicopters after consultations with the community.   But local residents still bitterly oppose the Zoo’s helipad on the grounds of noise pollution.   “When they first conducted noise pollution tests, they found the pad would infringe on the maximum amount of decibels the zoo’s own animals and patrons are allowed to absorb,” said local resident John Weeks.   “So what was their solution? To move the pad 300m closer to residents of the bordering Mountain View Estate!”

He said the Zoo’s PR machine, represented by Suzelie Connely, is “conveniently forgetting that the aircraft will be operating out of Beerwah, no matter where flights are directed thereafter.”  John has submitted a petition containing 3400 signatures of which he estimates 84% come from the immediate area to be effected from the flights, which he defines as stretching from Mount Beerbum to Maleny.

He delivers the petition to Caloundra City Council on the 11th.  An angry Mr Weeks went further still. “Once they get that pad in they can change their minds and fly wherever they want!”   He also voiced concerns that the helipad would be linked to other tourist infrastructure like the developing Brisbane Ship Terminal, providing a means for an increased volume of flights to the Zoo.

Australia Zoo has applied for a maximum of six flights per hour, which its spokesperson Suzelie Connelly said would mainly see helicopters operating only in the peak hours between 11.30am and 2pm.   The flights will last about 20 minutes.  “Expectations of 90 flights a day are far in excess of what will actually occur,” she said.

“This planning application covers the maximum number of operations in any given hour.”  She said that the Zoo was working in a “fly neighbourly policy” in conjunction with Air Services Australia, CCC and resident groups in an attempt to cause locals as little inconvenience as possible.

The zoo said it needed a helicopter stationed there for animal rescue operations.  But it wants the pad to be multi-purpose, providing a facility for helicopters engaged in fire fighting, police surveillance and rescue operations.  The joy flights will now be routed southeast from the Zoo over National Parks towards Bribie Island, a route which Mrs Connely believes “will still provide tourists with views of the mountains without aggravating its residents.”

The Glass House Mountains are designated Class G airspace, meaning it is not under the jurisdiction of air traffic controllers.   According to the Civil Aviation Safety Authority, which governs our skies, that means an aircraft can fly wherever it wants, as long as it flies 500ft above unpopulated terrain and clears the highest obstacle in populated areas by 1000ft.  Australia Zoo’s next hurdle on its quest for a helipad is to gain planning permission from CCC.   A proposal has been submitted and CCC will eventually move the proposal to a “public notification period” where those against the proposition can legally register opposition to the zoo’s plans.

Councilor Anna Grosskreutz, who represents the Glass House Mountains area, said while she was a fan of Australia Zoo’s work, she was losing patience with the Zoo over this issue.  “I don’t think fly neighbourly agreements are the answer – it’s clear the whole community is against this project,” she said.   “The only option is for the Zoo to withdraw its application (for joy flights) and if that is at the expense of the helipad, so be it.  I think the Zoo should concentrate on its on-ground conservation.”

Australia Zoo reckons joy flights are key to its planned indigenous cultural centre, which will educate visitors on the Sunshine Cost and its Hinterland.   It also said “a new tourist experience by helicopter was the best way to maintain its position as Australia’s number one tourist attraction” in a press statement.

Our thanks once again to Cameron & Tanya Outridge
of the Range News Newspaper for this story.