Senator Chisholm's questions to Airservices on aircraft noise

Thanks to our Labor colleague Senator Anthony Chisholm for asking questions about aircraft noise in Senate Estimates recently. Thanks also to the Brisbane Flight Path Community Alliance for suggesting topics for questions. The full transcript is below.

Senator CHISHOLM: I have some questions around Brisbane and the new runway. When did Airservices Australia commence, and then finalise, the standard terminal arrival route and the standard departure design for the new parallel runway integration into the Brisbane basin air space?

Mr Jason Harfield, Chief Executive Officer, Airservices Australia: I have to take the specifics on notice, but the finalisation of it would probably have been about 12 months before the opening of the runway, which would have been mid-last year. You are probably talking about around 2018-19. I will correct that if it is not correct.

Senator CHISHOLM: When was the decision made to adopt a closed STAR model in preference to an open STAR model, utilising radar vectoring to final approach with a dedicated director position?

Mr Harfield: I have to take it on notice for specifics.

Senator CHISHOLM: I presume it was in that same time period.

Mr Harfield: That may have been earlier, because it's one of the design principles—across the country, in introducing standard terminal arrival routes, we tried to go, where we possibly can, to closed STARs. The only place that doesn't—that has open STARs—is Sydney airport.

Senator CHISHOLM: Was the closed STAR model peer reviewed by another airline navigation service provider? If so, when, and was it after or before the adopted model was selected?

Mr Harfield: As I said, closed STARs has been a design philosophy that we've had in the air space since standard terminal arrival routes were introduced in the mid-1990s. With regard to Brisbane, I would have to take that on notice.

Senator CHISHOLM: So you say open STAR is at Sydney airport?

Mr Harfield: Sydney has an open STAR.

Senator CHISHOLM: And is that the only capital city?

Mr Harfield: To my understanding, it is the only capital city where there is an open STAR. The other STARs at other groups—say, for example, Melbourne—are closed STAR, where they take them all the way to the runway threshold. The difference between an open STAR and a closed STAR is that the tracking is all the way to the threshold with a closed STAR. With an open STAR it's to a certain point, and then the air traffic controller will then vector the aeroplane onto final approach.

Senator CHISHOLM: Why was a closed STAR model chosen? Is it more suitable for Brisbane?

Mr Harfield: It's what we use across the country. It's more suitable, it's more predictable and it's better in traffic management overall, because it allows the air crew to manage the flight all the way to the threshold, rather than getting to 20 miles and then not knowing how long they're going to be vectored for, how many track miles to run. When you're trying to manage the aircraft flows, it's a much more efficient way.

Senator CHISHOLM: Does this mean there would be an increased frequency over a particular geographic area on entry?

Mr Harfield: Potentially, yes, because the aircraft will navigate within closer tolerances rather than being vectored where the tolerances are undefined.

Senator CHISHOLM: So it potentially would impact the noise of residents under the flight paths?

Mr Harfield: Yes, it would, in the sense that it would mean that there is more frequency. However, that's balanced with an open STAR environment, where you affect more residents as a result of spreading the noise rather than having it in the same place on a regular basis.

Senator CHISHOLM: What research was conducted amongst other airline navigation service providers about the air space design models for independent and dependent parallel runways?

Mr Harfield: I have to take that on notice. We have had the United Kingdom's National Air Traffic Services come and review them from time to time, but I would have to take it on notice for specifics.

Senator CHISHOLM: What input did the Brisbane Airport Corporation provide as far as a preferred model of operation for the use of parallel runways?

Mr Harfield: I have to take that on notice to go back. Having parallel runways has been around for Brisbane for 20 years, so that sort of decision was made at that stage. The difference between dependent and independent parallel runways is the distance between the runways and how they operate. When they are a certain distance apart, such as in Sydney, where they're only about just over a kilometre apart, they have to be operated in what we call a 'dependent mode', which means that they are treated as one runway: if you have aircraft on final, you have to stagger them—even though, technically, they are on different runways—because the runways are treated as one. When they are independent, you can operate them as two separate runways. That's the difference between 'dependent' and 'independent'. So I would have to go back and check, because that's not a recent decision.

Senator CHISHOLM: Were consultants used by Airservices Australia in the design of the parallel runway airspace, and, if so, were any of the consultants recent Airservices Australia employees?

Mr Harfield: I would have to take that on notice.

Senator CHISHOLM: How does this design process differ from recent development of new airspace?

Mr Harfield: Can I ask for a clarification there? I'm not quite sure—

Senator CHISHOLM: In terms of the process that was gone through with Brisbane, and the design process, how would that differ from the development of other new airspace in regard to—

Mr Harfield: Flight paths for a runway?

Senator CHISHOLM: Yes.

Mr Harfield: There's no real difference.

Senator CHISHOLM: So there's a sort of standard process that you would go through?

Mr Harfield: Yes. For clarity's sake: with the Brisbane runway, I think the environmental impact statement was done in about 2004; they had to reclaim back out to the bay, so it was done earlier. It was our first greenfields new runway since the Sydney runway in the mid-nineties, so it was a process that was conducted through the 2000s and the teens. The basis of what we've done is what we're replicating now for the potential new runway in Melbourne and the potential new runway in Perth, as well as for Western Sydney.

Senator CHISHOLM: Were other options considered for the parallel runway airspace design?

Mr Harfield: There most likely would have been, but I'd have to go back and take on notice what considerations were made, and when, to end up with the final model.

Senator CHISHOLM: I also have some operational performance questions. What proportion of flights in the 10 pm to 6 am overnight period—this is in regard to Brisbane—have been directed over the bay since the new runway was opened?

Mr Harfield: I'd have to take the specifics on notice; however, where weather conditions permit, we are trying to do over-the bay-operations as much as possible—not even just during the night-time period but also during the day.

Senator CHISHOLM: I've got a series of questions about that. They're pretty specific, so it might be best to put them on notice.

Mr Harfield: We can give you specific answers.

Senator CHISHOLM: I'm happy to leave it there.

CHAIR: Thanks, Senator Chisholm. Unless there are any other questions for Airservices, I think we are right to let you go with our thanks.

Mr Harfield: Thank you very much.