Opposition to Katoomba Airfield plans

Opponents of plans for the Katoomba Airfield aired their concerns in an often passionate meeting in Katoomba yesterday (June 19).

Residents spoke of their fears that noise from helicopters using the air strip would destroy forever the peace and quiet of the Mountains.

Some of the crowd at the lunchtime airfield meeting at Hotel Blue.

Some of the crowd at the lunchtime airfield meeting at Hotel Blue.

There were about 100 people at the meeting, with the overwhelming majority against the airfield proposal. One only person - a tour operator - spoke in favour of it.

The meeting was organised by the Department of Industry, which is responsible for the crown land on which the airfield sits.

Representatives from the department who were there were anticipating a drop-in session, where people could approach them to ask individual questions. But it soon became apparent that those present wanted a large-scale meeting where they could voice their views.

Several times the group applauded as opponents spoke of possible adverse effects not only to local residents but also to visitors and possibly to native birds and animals.

Many also expressed their dismay at seeing flight path maps, one pointing out to the Gazette the location of her Medlow Bath home right underneath one of the tracks.

Arriving for the airfield meeting.

Arriving for the airfield meeting.

Derek and Floyd Larsen were granted an interim lease to manage and operate the site after an expression of interest process by the department. Mr Larsen is a helicopter pilot who used to work at Sydney Airport.

The Larsens have now put forward a proposal to support their application for a 50-year lease.

They plan to operate a commercial airfield, sealing one of the runways to allow recreational, fixed-wing aircraft to use it.

The Larsens have already cleared away a lot of rubbish from the site and added cameras and a weather station.

They intend to return some of the area to the environment and also operate to ensure they are carbon neutral, donating one tree for every flight to the not-for-profit Green Fleet organisation.

They want to offer scenic high-end helicopter charters and have pledged to use a 'fly neighbourly' scheme which reduces the impacts of noise on populated and sensitive areas.

A Medlow Bath resident points to where her house is in relation to the proposed flight paths.

A Medlow Bath resident points to where her house is in relation to the proposed flight paths.

The department has specifically ruled out joy flights. A document handed out at yesterday's meeting stated: "The department will not permit short-cycle/short-duration joy flights into or out of Katoomba airfield."

But when asked what constituted a "joy flight" one of the representatives conceded, "we need a definition of that".

The 50-hectare airfield, which is located in Medlow Bath, opened in 1965 as a facility for recreational flying, tourism and emergency services operations.

Long-term lessee, Rod Hay, was killed in a plane crash near the airfield in 2016. The department sought expressions of interest for a new lease in September 2017 and granted the licence to the Larsens in February 2018.

Yesterday's meeting was part of a community engagement strategy which will continue with further drop-in sessions next Tuesday (June 25) at Hotel Blue in Lurline St (opposite the RSL Club) at 11am-1pm and 5-7pm.

The department is encouraging people to make submissions which will be taken into account before a decision is made whether to grant a lease to the Larsens.