Living beneath the highway to the danger zone was not something Geraldine Fok expected to deal with when she moved into Sengkang’s Fernvale Link neighborhood.
Nearly each day, F-15s and F-16s circle morning to night over the high-rise residential block. Just yesterday, the 27-year-old human resource manager counted 30 flyovers alone, starting from 9am.
She is among thousands living in Singapore’s northeast who have struggled with the noise ever since the pandemic turned homes into workplaces, where the roar of dual, 25,000-pound-thrust Pratt & Whitney engines disrupt online meetings and presentations.
“My family moved to Sengkang just over 3 years ago and hearing the planes fly by was exciting for about a day, but then it got annoying pretty quickly,” she told Coconuts Singapore this week. “Every time we hear the roaring of the jets above us, we get excited for National Day, but National Day isn’t every day.”
Fok, who lives with her family of four, logged Wednesday’s flights in a spreadsheet she shared with Coconuts Singapore. The 32 flights heard between 9am and 8pm average to 2.5 per hour, though they come intermittently – and most frequently from 2pm to 3pm.
The flights usually become more common in August ahead of independence day, when the annual festivities are rehearsed. The crowd-pleasing military display is a signature part of the celebration. But those living within a 10-kilometer radius of the Paya Lebar Air Base say it can be a living hell.
University lecturer Adrian Koh, who has lived on Punggol Drive for five years, has attempted to measure the jet engine noise using a meter app on his phone. He said it has measured levels from 80 decibels to 90 decibels.
Noise over 70 decibels over a prolonged period can begin to damage hearing. Damage is possible after two hours of exposure to 80-decibel noise.
According to the Purdue University in the U.S., thparable to standing 15m from a freight train or standing a few meters from a moving motorcycle. Sounds measuring around 150dB can rupture the eardrum.
He wonders how much louder it would be if they passed directly overhead rather than at a distance.
The 800-hectare airbase was built in 1954 and used to be Singapore’s international airport before it was repurposed by the military in 1967. Complaints about the noise began at least three years ago as housing developments, mainly Sengkang, Punggol, and Hougang, spread across Singapore’s northeast and encroached on the base. The government has responded to complaints by moving half of its training flights abroad or over the waves. It’s also promised to relocate the base – in 2030. That also means those suffering from the noise pollution just have to endure another decade, at least.
Complaints have filtered up, and the Republic of Singapore Air Force, or RSAF, recently adjusted flight schedules to give more quiet time for students preparing for examinations coming in a few weeks. Despite that, complaints from hundreds of residents continue to fill RSAF’s Facebook page. Nearly 600,000 residents call the three neighborhoods home, according to latest figures by the Housing Development Board, excluding those on private property.
A petition launched last month has drawn only 400-plus signatures in three weeks. Petition author Kelly Lim said she can hear fighter jets flying up to seven times an hour from as early as 7:15am.
In response to queries, the Ministry of Defense said yesterday that air training was necessary to keep its pilots ever ready to guard Singapore. But it also noted the measures taken to cut down on noise, including reducing flight routes and the number of aircraft.
“The Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) needs to continue flying in local airspace to keep our pilots proficient and maintain operational readiness in order to safeguard Singapore’s skies. While a significant proportion of RSAF flying training is conducted with simulators and overseas, local flying training is still necessary,” its statement read.