Excessive flight path noise from planes arriving at and departing from Brisbane Airport is a massive problem affecting thousands of Brisbane residents – in particular after the completion of the New Parallel Runway. It’s abundantly clear that something needs to be done to reduce noise pollution for Brisbane residents and find a more sustainable way of managing Brisbane Airport. But for those not directly affected it’s also a very important insight into the power big corporations can wield over people’s lives and the legal system that allows them to do it.
Brisbane Airport Corporation (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.
I’ll be spending the next few months talking to residents and the excellent Brisbane Flight Path Community Alliance (www.BFPCA.org.au) who you should definitely follow for updates on the campaign against unsustainable flight noise.
If you are interested in joining the discussion about this issue and how we can get real community solutions, please join us at our public forum on Sunday, May 2 at the Seven Hills Hub.
But in the meantime, here are a few things I will be pushing for as a minimum. I’ve proposed a few short and long term solutions.
- At the very least, Airservices Australia and BAC need to undertake a complete redesign of the flight path operations at Brisbane Airport. This must ensure a total reduction in the number and frequency of flights departing and arriving over Brisbane suburbs. We can’t just shift the problem onto other residents. The new model and operation should follow international best practice for noise abatement. However, the solution will almost certainly involve more flights departing and arriving over the bay.
- This has to occur within the framework of a new Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the second runway that is produced with real and meaningful consultation with every community affected by flight path noise – not just people within a 5km radius of Brisbane Airport (not including the very limited consultation they did within 20km radius). The initial EIS was done with so little consultation that it’s not really worth the paper it’s written on.
- Long term we need a complete overhaul of our regulators and begin to invest in transport modes that aren’t so destructive to people’s lives and the climate. In the first instance we need to overhaul Airservices Australia and convert it into an independent statutory authority and roll back the corporatisation carried out by the Howard Government. Right now Airservices Australia is meant to oversee things like air traffic control and airways navigation. But in 1997 the regulator was corporatised – in other words converted into a government owned corporation. So rather than operating on public funding, Airservices Australia now relies on fees paid by private airline corporations like Qantas and Virgin. This is a big problem, because Airservices Australia now has a direct conflict of interest in increasing the profitability of private corporations, rather than providing independent oversight. We should also look at reversing the privatisation of major airports like Brisbane Airport Corporation and impose a set of holistic goals, rather than just rampant profit maximisation.
Brisbane Airport Corporation has said previously it expected annual passenger traffic through its domestic and international terminals would more than double from 22 million in 2014 to 50 million by 2035. It also forecast the number of annual individual flights would grow from 227,000 in 2019 to 360,000 by 2035 and 500,000 by 2045. That is completely unsustainable, in terms of local air and noise pollution and carbon emissions contributing to global warming.
But there are alternatives. In 2019 the Greens announced their plan to fund a publicly owned version of a high speed rail network along the east coast of Australia.
Via high speed rail, the travel time between Brisbane and Sydney would be 2hrs and 37min. While the current flight travel time is 1hr 30min, once you take into account security and check in – they are pretty similar.
The initial investment required to kick start the high speed rail link would be $1.6 billion and would be funded via taxes on developers.
Brisbane to Sydney is currently the 8th busiest domestic flight route in the world. Imagine what would happen with a cheaper option that had virtually the same travel time.
Prior to the pandemic in 2018 the four major privately owned airport corporations, including Brisbane, made a combined profit of $757.6 million – up 9%. As we come out of restrictions we can expect similar profits to return. We shouldn’t let the profits of private corporations get in the way of a better future for all of us.