The military in Hawaii is addressing a problem that has long drawn complaints in the islands — noise from training exercises, especially in the air.
The Office of Local Defense Community Cooperation is seeking comments from community members through Oct. 3 as part of a noise mitigation initiative for areas experiencing noise levels of 65 decibels or more from nearby military training and operations.
The OLDCC has identified three installations in Hawaii – Marine Corps Base Hawaii in Kaneohe, Wheeler Army Airfield in Wahiawa and the Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai — as falling under that category.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, noise from military training — particularly helicopters — has riled some Hawaii residents as they spend more time at home, leading them to notice overhead aircraft more than ever before.
The OLDCC’s survey includes several questions about jets and other fixed-wing aircraft. However, the majority of complaints revolve around helicopters and Marine Ospreys, which can tilt their rotors to fly like either a helicopter or a fixed-wing aircraft, that fly missions and ferry troops around the islands for training.
“While our presence is not always silent, our aviation training is done only out of necessity,” said Capt. Eric Abrams, a Marine spokesman. “On average, Marine rotary aircraft makes up the majority of noise complaints the base receives, however, many of these platforms are transitioning out of Hawaii in the near future.”
The Marine Corps is in the midst of a massive restructuring effort, starting with troops in Hawaii. Part of that involved removing all traditional helicopters, a process that’s already underway.
“Over the past year-and-a-half, especially since commencement of the Covid-19 pandemic, complaints to my office about military aircraft overflights of communities throughout my district have increased significantly,” Hawaii U.S. Rep. Ed Case said in an email. “There have been some adjustments but complaints continue.”
It also calls for the military to create “noise contour maps” based on the findings that can be incorporated in community planning. The bill will go to a floor vote later this year to become law.
Comments on noise from military training in Hawaii can be submitted to the Office of Local Defense Community Cooperation through its online form until Oct. 3.
This spring the Marines scrapped all of their Hawaii attack helicopters after they had been in the islands for just three years. But the Marines will continue to fly Osprey tilt-rotor craft and Marine Corps Base Hawaii is expected to get 2,300 more Marines over the next decade.
Abrams said that base leadership shared the OLDCC’s solicitation for comments with Windward area neighborhood boards and lawmakers, and continues to work with them on ways to reduce noise.
“Current mitigation measures include quiet hours, minimizing operations near residential and recreational areas, and strict adherence to Federal Aviation Administration, state and military regulations,” said Abrams.
Military aircraft flying between military bases through civilian airspace are subject to Federal Aviation Administration regulations and report their movements to Air Traffic Control in Honolulu. Sometimes the FAA will instruct military pilots to fly at lower altitudes to avoid civilian aircraft higher in the sky — leading to complaints from residents on the ground below.
“What generates the most complaints is understandably when we conduct larger-scale training exercises and there’s a higher volume of airframes flying,” said Lt. Col. Jamie Dobson, as spokeswoman for the Army’s 25th Infantry Division, which has aviation units based at Wheeler. “We try to notify the public before large scale training exercises are going to be conducted and an increase in noise in the area is expected from our training.”
Dobson said that the division’s loudest aircraft is the CH-47 Chinook, but that UH-60 Blackhawks, which tend to fly in groups during training, get the most complaints. Drone flights also occasionally generate complaints.
“Our flight operations occur between the hours of 9 a.m. and 11 p.m. However, there are times when training and missions require us to operate outside of these times,” said Dobson. “Night flying is crucial because the Army typically operates at night during combat operations and in environments with reduced visibility.”
The Army is currently seeking to renew leases on state owned lands it has used for training for decades. Among them is the Makua Valley, which is adjacent to Wheeler — giving air crews an area to train in without flying over densely populated communities. However, the military’s use of Makua has been controversial.
The Pacific Missile Training Range on Kauai is a proving ground for new technologies and is frequently used for live-fire and other operations. Amid raising tensions between the U.S., China and Russia the Pacific region is finding itself in a rapidly unfolding “missile race.”
Facility spokesman Tom Clements said the range operates several C-26 Metroliners, which are turboprop aircraft, and two contracted Sikorsky helicopters.
“We are fairly remote in our location, and our assigned aircraft operate almost exclusively over water. It is very rare for us to receive a noise complaint on our platforms,” said Clements.
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Kevin Knodell reported on the military and veterans for Civil Beat as a corps member for Report For America, a national nonprofit that places journalists in local newsrooms to cover underreported topics.