Complaints from residents in housing estates about the noise emitted by the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF)’s fighter jets flying over their homes have constantly surfaced as most of them have been working, studying and carrying out other activities from home now amid COVID-19 outbreak.
Among the residents, those living in the areas near to Singapore’s military airbase such as Sengkang, Punggol and Hougang have especially struggled with the roaring of the said fighter jets over their homes.
Coconuts Singapore in September interviewed several residents who complained about how the roaring of the jets has affected their daily life and even caused disruption to their online meetings or lessons when working from home.
A 27-year-old human resource manager, Geraldine Fok, told Coconuts Singapore that she and her family were excited for about a day hearing the planes fly by when they first moved to Sengkang three years ago.
However, the flying planes “got annoying pretty quickly”.
“Every time we hear the roaring of the jets above us, we get excited for National Day, but National Day isn’t every day,” she lamented, sharing a spreadsheet log with Coconuts Singapore.
The log showed 32 flights heard between 9 am and 8 pm averaging to 2.5 times per hour, although they came intermittently – most frequently from 2 pm to 3 pm.
Noticing the increase of aircraft noise after the end of circuit breaker measures, a resident who has stayed at Buangkok Drive for five years, Stanley Tan said it is “particularly irritating” that he has to frequently mute his microphone during virtual meetings while working from home.
The noise, Mr Tan said, also caused his son struggling to study for his major Primary School Leaving Examinations (PSLE) and caused interruption to his son’s lessons as “the teacher will pause and or have to repeat again after the jet flies off”.
He wondered whether the aircraft can fly left along the coastal area instead of flying over the residential area, worrying that the jet might crash into an HDB block.
Meanwhile, Adrian Koh, who is a university lecturer and resident of Punggol Drive for five years, told Coconuts Singapore that he hears the fighter jets hover above every hour from 8 am to 9 pm on a daily basis.
His student’s learning has consequently been affected, as he has had to record his online lessons multiple times or pause lessons until the jets’ noise fades.
“The key issue that I have is, as affected residents, the RSAF should lay out a schedule of their flight times and have the residents informed.
“This is so that we could plan our activities around their flights, and not to be ambushed by loud jet noises throughout the course of the day, especially when we are WFH [working-from-home],” Mr Koh told Coconuts Singapore.
Resident launch petition to raise concern to RSAF
At the same time, a petition has been subsequently launched on Change.org to address the concern about the interruption of daily life due to sounds of military aeroplanes.
Created by Kelly Lim, the petition intends to serve as data to prove the authorities that there is a substantial amount of people affected by the constant noise from the military aeroplanes taking off from Paya Lebar Airbase and flying over the residential areas, hoping that it can encourage action to be taken.
Ms Lim described that it can be up to seven flights flying up an hour starting from 7.15 am and ending at 9 pm “during bad days”.
“For people working from home, it is simply impossible to carry on with life as per normal,” she noted.
She further stressed, “What we want is a two-way dialogue with the relevant authorities. It is definitely not unreasonable to negotiate less flights or less loud flights. We are not asking for the planes to stop flying but some kind of noise mitigation, accountability, or at least predictability so we can plan around the flights.”
At the time of writing, the petition has garnered over 4,000 signatures.
Affected residents left comments on RSAF’s Facebook page, calling RSAF to take action
Many affected residents flock to RSAF Facebook page with furious comments, urging the authorities to tackle the issue immediately.
Many of them complained that the jets have been “flying non-stop every day every hour” since the start of circuit breaker, which has severely affected their daily routine while working from home.
They also wondered “if there is really a need” for so many jets flying over every day.
“How to default work from home if airplanes zoom pass every hour for 10 to 15 minutes each time for the entire office hours of 9am to 5pm,” a netizen wrote.
Apart from the disruptions to the people who work-from-home, a netizen commented that the noise pollution caused by RSAF jets is “making it not conducive to raise children in Singapore”.
She reasoned that the families living in the affected area are mostly young families with infants and young children, where the children need their quality sleep to stay healthy. She is also personally affected as the sound of the jets flying over often wakes up her sleeping baby.
“No extra baby bonuses is enough to compensate for the almost daily inconveniences of having to soothe a tired baby back to sleep from a disrupted nap,” she lamented.
A few netizens also implored the authorities to reduce the frequencies of flights when most residents are working from home now during this period.
A netizen asked for clarification from the authorities about the number of increased flights.
RSAF replied saying that “there has not been an increase in flying”, but the noise is from “commercial aircraft movement at Changi Airport daily”.
Govt’s response to the issue
Speaking during the Parliament in October, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen noted that the RSAF has reduced its local training “as far as possible” and introduced measures to reduce the noise from flying, as reported by CNA.
Dr Ng pointed out that “there is a need for a capable and operationally-ready RSAF” though “the ministry recognises the inconvenience and disruption to residents”.
“That we have a capable RSAF today able to defend our skies is taken for granted. It’s a virtuous state of affairs, but one that can slip if ever the capabilities of our pilots and planes degrade.
“And to keep up their skills, RSAF pilots need to train adequately,” he noted.
Dr Ng also explained that most of the local flying is conducted over water rather than land and avoiding residential areas to reduce the noise impact on the public.
Not just this, the RSAF had also adjusted its training tempo to accommodate sensitive periods such as national examinations.
“During this COVID-19 pandemic where more residents are working and studying from home, the RSAF has kept the level of local flying activities to the minimum needed to maintain operational readiness,” the Minister said.
As part of the urban transformation project, it was reported that the Paya Lebar Airbase will be relocated from 2030 onwards, which will reduce the number of RSAF planes flying over the residential areas.