Helicopters are often used for services that benefit communities, such as fire fighting, crime prevention, search and rescue, construction and media coverage. Therefore, they can be required to fly over residential areas that normally experience few overflying aircraft. The noise helicopters generate can be particularly noticeable to people who are not used to aircraft noise on a regular basis.
The main cause of noise from a helicopter is the rotors, especially when a helicopter hovers for a long time over a single location. You can learn more about sound and aircraft noise on our Understanding Aircraft Noise page.
Helicopters are certified to international noise standards, which are implemented in Australia through the Air Navigation (Aircraft Noise) Regulations 2018.
These noise standards apply to the design and production of aircraft and specify the amount of noise that may be made by an aircraft model/ type. The regulations are administered by the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications.
Several airports and airfields have established voluntary Fly Neighbourly Advice or Fly Neighbourly Agreements. These agreements are established between aircraft operators and communities or authorities (normally airports or local councils) to assist in reducing the impact of aircraft noise on local communities.
Fly Neighbourly Agreements for helicopter operators are often guided by the Helicopter Association lnternational's Fly Neighborly Guide and may include requirements such as avoiding noise sensitive areas by following unpopulated routes (for example waterways), or areas with high ambient noise levels such as highways.
Information on Fly Neighbourly Agreements is available on airport websites.
If a helicopter pilot wants to cross a 'controlled' zone around an airport, it is sometimes necessary for air traffic control to hold the helicopter in one place until it is safe to cross. This sometimes means helicopters have to hover over built up areas.
Fly Neighbourly Agreements may include requirements around hovering.
The Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) have regulations for how low aircraft, including helicopters, can fly. These regulations require helicopter pilots fly no lower than 1,000 feet (ft) over built-up areas, or 500 ft over any other areas, unless they are landing or taking off.
Helicopters can fly below these heights in certain situations – for example, police, rescue, fire fighting and military helicopters may fly at any height required under a dispensation from CASA. The media and some business operations, such as lifting work or photography, may also seek dispensations from CASA to operate at lower heights.
More information is available on the CASA website.
Helicopter operators and training organisations often limit the number of training circuits, hours, and aircraft allowed to fly over residential areas to help reduce the impact of helicopter noise.
Helicopter landing sites are subject to state and local government land use planning and development approval processes. Information on these processes is available on government planning websites.
The Civil Aviation Safety Authority has also published Guidelines for the Establishment and Use of Helicopter Landing Sites.