Emma Kelly reviews the Australian Government’s recent Aviation White Paper.
At the end of 2009, the Australian Government laid to rest some questions on future airport capacity for the Sydney area but raised a number of others with the release of its long-awaited Aviation White Paper.
The White Paper is the result of a process that started in early 2008; involved more than 350 submissions from the aviation industry, state and local governments and the community; and has culminated in more than 130 policy initiatives and the first national aviation policy for the country.
The White Paper is designed to be a national aviation policy − or Flight Path to the Future − providing a “comprehensive forward-looking framework to guide future growth,” says the government. It adds: “The National Aviation Policy is about giving industry the certainty and incentives to plan and invest for the long term, strengthening safety and security and addressing the needs of travellers, airport users and communities affected by aviation activity.”
Future airport capacity for the Sydney area was one of the most contentious issues addressed by the White Paper process. There has been a long-held belief by governments and the community that to meet the demands of a growing population the Sydney region will eventually require a second major airport. As recently as June when approving Sydney Kingsford Smith Airport’s (SYD) master plan, the government acknowledged that while the it will continue to play an important role in handling the nation’s air traffic, it cannot and should not handle the projected long-term growth in the region. SYD handled more than 32 million passengers in 2008/9.
But where Sydney’s second airport should be located has always been the sticking point. Numerous studies have been conducted over the years, identifying possible sites for a second site, most notably the Badgerys Creek site, west of the city. But the White Paper has finally ended consideration of that site. “Badgerys Creek is no longer an option,” the White Paper emphatically states. “It has been overtaken by years of urban growth in the area and is inconsistent with future New South Wales [NSW] spatial planning and land-use development for the south-west region of Sydney.”
In the latest attempt to address the issue once and for all, the federal government is proposing to work with the NSW State Government to develop an Aviation Strategic Plan (ASP) for the Sydney region. The ASP is scheduled for completion next year and will be developed as part of an integrated transport strategy, says the White Paper. The process will be overseen by a steering committee comprising experts in aviation, planning and investment.
The ASP will consider the immediate aviation infrastructure requirements for the Sydney region and the capacity of the existing aviation infrastructure and the land transport linkages to meet forecast demand. It will also look at the medium and long-term aviation infrastructure requirements for the region and the capability of existing aviation assets to meet the forecast market demand in passenger and freight transport, as well as general aviation. This will consider current airport capacity, the implications of future long-term demand forecasts, the planning of future economic infrastructure, the location and nature of future urban growth in the Sydney region and key linkages between existing aviation infrastructure with other transport networks.
The study will also review existing investment strategies for the civil and defence airport facilities − the Royal Australian Air Force’s Richmond base, for example − in the region, including an assessment of their capacity to meet Sydney region’s future aviation requirements.
The group will also be tasked with identifying strategies and locations to meet the aviation infrastructure needs of the Sydney region by examining:
• Current and future state land use and land transport planning strategies
• Sydney’s future requirements for transport and economic infrastructure
• Existing and required transport infrastructure to support additional aviation capacity for the region
• The need for other supporting infrastructure, such as energy, communications and water
• The availability and application of off-airport protection measures to ensure existing and future capacity is protected from inappropriate development which may limit its effective long-term operations and growth
• The interaction between airports in the region
• Economic and investment and environmental opportunities and challenges associated with future land use
• Existing airport policy and legislative requirements.
The study will include developing plans to optimise the future use of the Badgerys Creek site, which − according to the White Paper – presents major opportunities for the economic development of western Sydney.
While the White Paper answers the Badgerys Creek question, it doesn’t go further. “At this time the government will not be speculating about any other particular locations or sites for additional aviation capacity which will be in or out of the aviation strategic plan. These locations will be developed as part of the work overseen by the steering committee and undertaken by Australian Government and NSW officials,” the White Paper says.
In the meantime, the government says it will continue to adopt a balanced approach to the development of SYD, “allowing for sensible commercial and economic development but also addressing the social and amenity impacts of this development on the communities living around the airport.” As a result, it plans to maintain the existing hourly cap on aircraft movements and the airport curfew, as well as noise-sharing arrangements.
The future needs of the Sydney region wasn’t the only airport issue to come under White Paper spotlight, with ideas to strengthen airport planning arrangements, improve regulatory oversight of leased federal airports, continue to upgrade remote aerodromes, tighten security measures and minimise the impact of aircraft noise all addressed.
Australia’s airports are important transport and economic hubs, handling over 120 million passenger movements in 2008/9 and generating hundreds of thousands of jobs, notes the White Paper. Improved planning at the country’s airports to facilitate better integration and co-ordination with off-airport planning and continued investment in the country’s airport infrastructure and land transport links are the stated goals of the government. “As airports expand to meet increasing demand and our major cities grow, the issue of planning is assuming increasing importance,” says Anthony Albanese, Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government. Continual investment in and upgrade of the aviation infrastructure is needed to drive the country’s productivity and economic performance, but in order to ensure this, airports require the best possible planning and consultative framework.
As a result, the government is proposing a raft of measures in this area, including establishing planning co-ordination forums for each primary capital city airport to enable airports and governments to more effectively engage on strategic planning issues. It is also establishing a list of expert advisors to provide appraisals on identified land use planning and integration issues. Additionally they will also be responsible for conducting more detailed master plans, including those for ground transport schemes and environmental strategies; creating a new requirement for developments with a significant community, economic or social impact to go through a major development plan assessment. This should lead to better assessment of the impact of airport development on surrounding communities and formalise community aviation consultation groups to ensure the local population has direct input on airport planning matters.
At regional and remote airports the government aims to maintain its investment programme, through − for example − the Remote Aerodrome Safety Program.
In the area of aircraft noise, the government says it will continue to work with the industry to ensure the impact of it is minimised. This will be done by adopting an effective national land use planning regime near airports and flight paths. The operation of marginally-compliant Chapter 3 aircraft, such as hush-kitted Boeing 727s, will be regulated where they contribute to unacceptable levels of noise. In addition, existing curfew arrangements will be maintained at Adelaide, Essendon, Gold Coast (Coolangatta) and Sydney airports. Brisbane Airport is also on the radar for possible future curfews. Significant new development and activity is planned at the Queensland hub over the next decade and the noise impact of future airport growth will be monitored and a review process established on any need for a curfew, says the White Paper. Furthermore, air traffic service provider Airservices Australia has been tasked with establishing an aircraft noise ombudsman to independently review noise complaints handling procedures and improve the service provider’s consultation arrangements.
Security is a major focus of the White Paper, with the government committing to strengthening aviation security through a number of measures. Amongst these are requirements for (from July) a requirement for all passenger and checked baggage for all aircraft greater than 66,138lba (30,000kg) MTOW operating regular public transport services to be screened. By July 2014, this will have been extended to include all RPT services on aircraft greater than 44,091lb (20,000kg) MTOW. Work will continue with airport and airline operators to ensure the implementation of more effective ‘front of house’ arrangements, including agreed alert and response arrangements for security incidents at terminal buildings. Security needs will bring the introduction of annual certification requirements for screening officers and screening authorities, plus the implementation of improved training programmes. A performance management framework of security screening is also on the agenda, along with a drive to improve security within the air cargo supply chain, where “vulnerabilities remain”, through the development of a regulated shipper scheme. This would mean making appropriate use of technology-based screening for high-risk cargo. However, the government has rejected calls for a more centralised aviation security screening authority to improve standards and consistency, believing that such a move would be: “overly prescriptive, more expensive and less responsive to passengers”.
The government has eased restrictions on certain carry-on items in an effort to minimise passenger inconvenience without compromising security. Passengers at Australian airports will once again be able to pass through airport security checks with knitting needles, crochet hooks and nail files!
Emma Kelly reviews the Australian Government’s recent Aviation White Paper.