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Fighting against excessive aircraft noise

UPDATE May 2024 - Submissions to the Senate inquiry into aircraft noise have now closed.

The Greens secured a Senate inquiry into aircraft noise in February 2024 with the help of an indredible campaign by Brisbane community members. Sign up here to receive updates including how you can get involved.

Please note most submissions are not public on the inquiry website yet as they are being manually reviewed by the committee.

You can read the joint submission written by myself, Stephen Bates MP and Max Chandler-Mather MP here.

You can also read my summary of the first hearing in Brisbane here. More hearings still to come.

Sign up on this page and I'll keep you up to date with the latest developments on the campaign against excessive flight noise.

Excessive flight noise from air traffic has been an issue for some residents of Brisbane for many years. The opening of an additional runway (the "New Parallel Runway") at the privately-owned Brisbane Airport in July 2020 has had a terrible impact on the lives of many Brisbane residents, including many people in Ryan. Residents affected by noise from Brisbane Airport want to reduce the impact on their health with caps on the number of flights per hour and an overnight curfew, measures that are in place for Sydney and Melbourne Airport. To date, both AirServices Australia and the Brisbane Airport Corporation (BAC) have refused these reasonable measures on the grounds it will impact profitability of the airport.

BAC has produced a flight path design and operational model that maximises profit at the expense of Brisbane residents, small businesses and local schools, with no meaningful oversight from regulators or the Federal Government. Meanwhile, Airservices Australia, which is meant to act as an impartial regulator, appears to have completely rolled over for Brisbane Airport Corporation.

In fact, Brisbane Airport has one of the worst noise abatement plans in the developed world. Unlike Sydney Airport, it has no curfew and is currently run to maximise profit at the expense of Brisbane residents and the environment. Not only that, but BAC is completely exempt from state-level noise pollution laws – and in the medium term it’s clear we desperately need national legislation to regulate and mandate restrictions on aircraft noise.

BAC has an aggressive plan for growth over the coming years as it pursues its ambition to become a major freight airport for the eastern seaboard. According to analysis by the Brisbane Flight Path Community Alliance, BAC’s forecast air traffic exceeds 110 flight movements an hour by 2035, far exceeding air traffic from Sydney or Melbourne Airports, and bringing them on par with major international airports like Singapore or Hong Kong. If growth of this kind goes unchecked, it means that residents across the city will be affected more and more.

A survey of 2000 Brisbane residents in 2021 found that 81% of respondents had their sleep disrupted as a result of flight noise, 68% of respondents suffered from mental distress, and 11% of respondents had been forced to seek medical help. This is not acceptable, and I will continue to fight to have the needs of people put before corporate profit.

Fixing flight noise

The demands of the community have been simple. We need:

  • a curfew
  • cap on flights
  • a new long-term operating plan to put more flights over the bay

These kinds of noise abatement measures already exist at major international airports including Sydney Airport. When the Minister for Infrastructure denies the community, it's the government saying that a curfew and cap on flights are good enough for Sydney but not for Brisbane.

The Minister could implement these measures with the stroke of a pen, but until then we need the community to build a protest movement that can't be ignored, while my colleagues and I keep up the pressure in Parliament.

My actions on the campaign

Submission to the Aviation Green Paper

The government recently released its Aviation Green Paper, which is a public consultation paper about the aviation sector. While it does touch on flight noise, it does not even consider the proposals the community has requested to address the noise problem in Brisbane. I have to say that while there’s such an active community being so clear on the reforms that they’re calling for, it’s negligent to ignore them entirely.

At the core of the issues in the Green Paper is an underlying assumption that flight movements will triple by 2050, from around 3 million per year now to as much as 10 million. This would be completely unsustainable. Flight noise in Brisbane is already a huge issue.

Yet this is the government’s plan. This increase in aviation would also have a terrible impact on our climate. Air travel already accounts for 2.5% of global emissions and has broader impacts on the climate.

It’s also worth noting that the consulting firm that did the modelling of flight number increases for the Green Paper, LEK Consulting, also has had major contracts with multiple airline corporations. Impartial modelling from a company making its money from the growth of airline profits? It’s hard to not be a little sceptical here.

You can read my submission to the Green Paper on behalf of the Australian Greens here.

SODPROPS to become preferred operating mode

Thanks to community pressure, the Greens have been able to secure a commitment from the Minister to direct Airservices Australia to operate SODPROPS as priority mode at all hours. SODPROPS stands for ‘Simultaneous Opposite Direction Parallel Runway Operations’ and means that wherever possible, one runway is used for departures over water and the other runway for arrivals over water, rather than over the homes of Brisbane residents.

If done properly it could mean on average hundreds fewer flights going over residential areas each week, and instead taking off and landing over the water.

SODPROPs mode is not always possible, particularly where weather conditions make it unsafe (tailwind speed, visibility, etc). There may be other ways that the airport finds to get out of utilising SODPROPS to its maximum potential. What mitigates against this is the commitment secured whereby the Government must report clearly to the community on the share of flights going over the water. And quite importantly – on occasions where SODPROPS can’t be used, the Government must report on the reasons why, allowing the Brisbane community to hold the airport to account for these decisions. 

In the long-term, the more flights that fly in and out of Brisbane airport the less SODPROPS will be able to be used, because it has capacity restrictions. And with Brisbane Airport planning on doubling the number of flights by 2035, over time the use of SODPROPS will potentially decline – so it’s really critical that we continue the fight for a cap on the total number of flights per hour and a curfew from 10pm to 6am.

Community protest and reintroducing a bill to Federal Parliament

After over a year of stonewalling from the new Labor Minister, the people of Brisbane have been fed up of being ignored. That's why the Brisbane Flight Path Community Alliance (BFPCA) organised a huge protest outside BAC headquarters at Brisbane Airport. Off the strength of this protest, the Greens have re-introduced our bill to parliament to mandate a noise curfew and a cap on flights. The protest sent a strong message to BAC and to Canberra, but we need the community to keep up the pressure.

Submission to the Post-Implementation Review 

AirServices Australia were required to commission an independent, post-implementation review (PIR) into the impact of the new runway 12 months after it opened. The Trax Report was finally released in late August 2022 after delays, and contained little to celebrate. The scope was too narrow, the timelines were too long, and it was silent on the issues of a long-term operating plan, a curfew, and a cap on flights. Nonetheless, I would like to see immediate action on the positive elements of the Trax Report and a firm commitment from the Minister to those deeper structural changes.

The members for Griffith, Brisbane and I collaborated on a submission in response to the draft report, which supported community calls for a caps and curfews, and noted that AirServices Australia’s obligations to advance the civil aviation industry is in conflict with its ability to be an impartial regulator. 

Final PIR report released for Christmas

The Final PIR Report was released just the week before Christmas (when many are on holidays - clearly to mute any potential fallout!) In the report, there are a handful of positive changes, as there were in the draft form. In particular, ASA included suggestions from the BFPCA and Greens MPs around measurability and accountability regarding five-year forecasts and online mapping, as well as considering examining “opportunities to shift night-time operations over the bay or away from inland communities". While ASA acknowledged the community’s demand for a curfew, it was deemed ‘out of the scope of the PIR’. At the same time, a cap on total flights and the kind of comprehensive flight path redesign with more over the bay that the community have been calling for were left out.

Speech in Parliament

While I concede that speeches in Parliament in and of themselves rarely make the change we need, I thought it important to raise many of the issues around flight paths and noise that I’ve been hearing from the community.

One thing that is often overlooked in this discussion is the negative impact of high levels of noise, particularly affecting sleep at night, on people’s mental health. Further, I spoke about the regulatory capture of AirServices Australia, where they rely on the fees paid by private airline corporations like QANTAS and Virgin. Not to mention the donations the major parties receive from BAC. It’s no wonder we see such a dysfunctional regulatory framework. I also raised the concerns from residents of Upper Brookfield about the pollution of rainwater tanks by low-flying aircraft from Archerfield airport. 

Make no mistake, Labor could legislate this right now. As a community must amplify our efforts, and the Greens will be here to support us. We should bring Brisbane Airport back into public hands, and wind back the corporatisation of AirServices Australia, so we can have genuine democratic oversight of this important industry. People must come before the profits of airport and airline corporations!

Meetings with stakeholders

Trax, Brisbane Airport Corporation, and AirServices Australia have held a number of community meetings as part of the PIR. While I was in Canberra, my team member Sean attended the Upper Brookfield PIR on the 11th of September. On my return I attended the St Lucia PIR on the evening of 15th September, having had a Zoom meeting with Catherine King that morning, in which I continued to press her for real action on this important issue. On the 25th of September, I attended a forum with community members to strategise the next steps and I held a smaller group of constituents in my Ryan office the week after. 

My Greens colleagues have met with Brisbane Airport Corporation to voice community concerns. All reports indicate they are feeling the pressure. At the latest meeting, BAC said they are considering putting in place a discount or levy to incentivize airlines to move to quieter aircraft. Additionally, they seem to be hearing the calls for more flights over the bay. These are modest victories, but they demonstrate the power of community pressure on the government and the airport.

I've met with Transport Minister Catherine King twice, and it’s clear to me that the only way we’re going to get real change is if we strategise and organise as a Brisbane community to form a protest movement that can’t be ignored. The more we can demonstrate community support, the more leverage we have to see real change.

Get involved

The community affected by flight noise have been brilliant at organising so they are heard on this issue. I highly recommend the Brisbane Flight Path Community Alliance, which formed in late 2020 after the new runway opened in July that year. At a community forum in September 2022, people felt that to get genuine solutions to this problem, we need to have a powerful collective voice and BFCPA are already doing amazing work on this issue. Take an online action, or sign up for communications, including rapid text alerts about planned actions and events.

My Greens colleagues in Brisbane and Griffith will continue to support the community in their fight against profiteers with no regard for the community.

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