The free Air Show Tengah residents would rather shun

A ground marshall saluting the pilot of an F-16 as he prepares to take off from Tengah Air Base on Jan 27, 2016.
A ground marshall saluting the pilot of an F-16 as he prepares to take off from Tengah Air Base on Jan 27, 2016. PHOTO: ST FILE

Ever so often, the roar of fighter jets breaks insurance sales manager Derrick Ng's concentration at home.

But the Jurong West Street 25 resident, who lives 5km away from Tengah Air Base, has resigned himself to the piercing noise over the eight years he has lived there.

With a second runway coming - part of the air base's expansion to accommodate the relocation of Paya Lebar Air Base from 2030 - he is bracing himself for even more interruptions.

"The planes fly so close to us that I tell my friends I enjoy a free Air Show," he told The Straits Times.

"When they fly, it's this loud zoom-zoom sound, which is disruptive when it comes at 9pm and your family is trying to sleep," the 44-year-old father of two added.

For some neighbours, the noise is enough to drive them in search of other options. Chemical processing technician W. K. Cheng, 37, said that while the jets do not fly every day, their 140- to 160-decibel roar has had an impact on his family's quality of life, especially his three-year-old daughter's.

By comparison, the limit for construction work near residential sites is 90 decibels, about the level of noise a passing truck makes.

"It is a good reason to sell the place," said Mr Cheng, who plans to put his flat on the market.

When told of the expansion of Tengah Air Base, Mr Ng's jaw dropped in dismay. "It's already so noisy, there will be another runway?"

Jurong West residents are particularly affected by the Tengah jets, partially due to the proximity of their homes to the base. The runway in Tengah also has a north-south orientation - in line with the prevailing wind direction in Singapore, making Jurong West a prime target for noise pollution.

In contrast, Paya Lebar Air Base is separated by factories and parks while Changi Air Base is shielded by the commercial Changi Airport.

Hong Kah North MP Amy Khor, whose ward the affected residents are in, said noise complaints are common, but added that the Ministry of Defence (Mindef) has taken steps to mitigate the problem.

For example, it works with schools and avoids flying planes during the examination period.

It has also reduced the number of night flights, "but we cannot not have them at all, because the pilots still need to train", she said.

Residents in the area are also occasionally invited to the air base to understand how operations are conducted and to meet the pilots - a privilege not usually extended to those living elsewhere, she added.She said: "Agencies must look at how to mitigate the noise when another runway comes up, but for some residents, it is more of a challenge."

The Ministry of National Development, which announced Tengah's expansion on Tuesday, told The Straits Times public housing developments take into consideration surrounding noise sources and permissible noise levels.

Mindef said the Republic of Singapore Air Force is "constantly exploring ways to minimise the inconveniences to the public while still meeting operational and training requirements".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 20, 2017, with the headline 'The free Air Show Tengah residents would rather shun'. Print Edition | Subscribe