Low-flying helicopters face the chop

Noisy, low-flying helicopters, the bane of weekend walkers seeking a little peace and tranquillity within the borders of the Table Mountain National Park (TMNP), may soon be a thing of the past.

Draft legislation currently before Parliament aims to limit the height at which an aircraft can fly over the park, or any other protected area in South Africa, ”to a level of 2 500 feet above the highest point”.

The highest point within the TMNP is Maclear’s Beacon, on top of Table Mountain. Named after renowned astronomer Thomas Maclear, it is 1 086 metres (just over 3 500 feet) above sea level.

This means any aircraft flying over the park, which extends the full length of the peninsula, from Table Mountain to Cape Point, must maintain a minimum altitude of 6 000 feet above sea level.

At this height, the clatter of helicopter rotors and the throb of their engines is unlikely to disturb anyone’s Sunday stroll.

The new legislation is contained within the National Environmental Management: Protected Areas Act, an amendment to which was examined by the National Assembly’s environmental affairs and tourism portfolio committee on Tuesday.

Among the changes the committee approved, was one extending the application of the height restriction to cover ”all protected areas”, and not just world heritage sites or special nature reserves.

The measure also covers Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), which will mean the height restriction also applies to aircraft flying over the newly-proclaimed MPAs around the peninsula.

The Act, which cannot come into effect until the amendment Bill is passed by Parliament, probably later this year, makes allowance for emergency situations or ”to a person acting on the instruction of the [park’s] management authority”.

Asked if they had received applications from helicopter tour operators for permission to fly lower over their area, TMNP communications manager Fiona Kalk said the park would soon be ”workshopping an approach to this issue”.

Currently, aircraft overflying the park were expected to maintain a height of 500 metres above the ground, although this, she conceded, was difficult to enforce.

Kalk said the TMNP supported the new legislation.

”Our main aim is to maintain the wilderness quality of the TMNP,” she said. – Sapa

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