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Community group launches campaign to reduce helicopter noise

“On some days we have 40 helicopter flights going out and 40 coming in and the sound of that is in the 65 to 68 decibel range, that’s the same as having your telephone ring 80 times a day, but you can’t turn it off."
20190526 Alpine Helicopters Open House 0001
An Alpine Helicopters flight carrying Kananaskis Public Safety personnel flies into the Canmore Heliport during Alpine Helicopter's open house in May. RMO FILE PHOTO

CANMORE – Growing concerns about noise pollution from helicopters flying in and out of the Canmore Municipal Heliport has sparked a campaign for change from a grassroots organization.

The Bow Valley Helicopter Noise Alliance (BVHNA) said the goal of the campaign is to reduce noise pollution created by the increasing number of sightseeing tours offered by Alpine Helicopters, which will begin negotiations with the Town to renew its lease early next year.

According to data provided by the grassroots group, the number of sightseeing guests flown from the municipal heliport increased by 74 per cent in 2017 compared to the 10-year average between 2000 and 2010.

“We’re not anti-helicopter,” said Frank Liszczak, a member of the grassroots organization. “This is a community that lives with helicopters, the issue is the dramatic increase that we’ve seen over the last couple of years that gives us pause for concern.”

He said the substantial increase in 12-minute sightseeing flights over the past few years has had a noticeable impact on residents' quality of life who live near the heliport, or along the flight paths. 

“On some days, we have 40 helicopter flights going out and 40 coming in and the sound of that is in the 65 to 68 decibel range, that’s the same as having your telephone ring 80 times a day, but you can’t turn it off,” said Liszczak.

The campaign comes six months before Alpine Helicopters and the Town of Canmore begin negotiations to extend the company’s 10-year lease, which officially expires on Nov. 30, 2021.

According to the lease agreement, both parties can request an extension of the initial 10-year term by providing at least 18 months notice, which is May 31, 2020.

The Town confirmed public consultations about the future of the heliport will begin early next year before council makes a decision in May 2020.

Alpine Helicopters acknowledged the group’s concerns and said it has already taken several steps to try and mitigate the noise, including a commitment to move as many of its 12-minute sightseeing tours as possible to its heliport beside Stoney Nakoda Resort and Casino.

In 2019, the company also stopped conducting 12-minute flights out of Canmore on weekends and holidays from May 1 to Oct. 1, when most people are outside enjoying their backyards. 

“We’ve actively tried to work together with the Town to be a good partner in this community,” said Rick Carswell, tourism operations manager for Alpine Helicopters.

“We work within our lease and do what we can to try and mitigate the noise because we recognize they are noisy machines.”

According to the company’s lease agreement, Alpine Helicopters is allowed to fly a maximum of 60 flights a day between 8:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. There is no max on commercial flights for companies such as Assiniboine Lodge and flights are permitted between 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m.

In 2018, Carswell said there were only four days when his company flew more than 50 flights in a single day. Its busiest day was 54 flights.

“We’ve never exceeded 60 flights,” said Carswell.

While the number of sightseeing guests flown from the municipal heliport has increased over the past decade, Carswell said the number of helicopter flights peaked in the mid-1990s when there were three helicopter companies operating out of the facility.

“It’s actually decreased from its peak years ago and since then we’ve actively tried to work together with the Town as a good partner in this community,” said Carswell, adding the heliport is an economic benefit to the community. 

In addition to providing sightseeing tours, he said his company also helps with backcountry rescues and supports more than 60 community groups.  

“The rescue and commercial work alone does not generate the required revenue to support this facility, so the tourism revenue is absolutely required,” said Carswell.

While public consultations won’t begin until early next year, the BVHNA has floated three possible solutions to mitigate the noise pollution, including relocating the heliport, downsizing it, or using quieter helicopters.

“It’s a poorly located heliport given what we have located around it today,” said Liszczak, explaining it was originally built in 1988 when there were fewer residential homes in the vicinity of the heliport.  

According to publicly available information, the heliport is located on 13.7 acres of land owned by the Town, however, it only occupies a couple of acres of the site.

The assessed value of the property is worth approximately $5.9 million and according to the lease agreement Alpine Helicopters pays $109,000 adjusted annually to the consumer price index.

Liszczak questioned whether the Town would be better off to use the land for more pressing needs, such as affordable housing.

“That’s one of the last large parcels that the Town owns and I think they have a duty to consider what is the best use of that land for the long term,” said Liszczak.

Carswell said his company was open to working with the community and the Town to find a solution that works for everyone.

“We’re proud to be here and we want to continue to be members of this community,” said Carswell. “We want to be good neighbours.”  

For more information about the campaign visit


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