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Janet asks questions about curfew changes and noise at Essendon Airport

Estimates & Committees
Janet Rice 23 Oct 2017

Senator RICE: I want to talk about the discussion paper that was released in September about the proposed changes to the curfew at Essendon Airport. Can you tell us what precipitated these proposed changes?

Ms Spence: There'd been representations from Essendon Airport, and we had also been separately looking at the way in which, within the department, we administered curfews. I might turn to my colleague Mr Phillips, if he has anything to add.

Mr Phillips: There were a number of factors, looking at this. Firstly, there was some demand expressed by Essendon Airport. We were looking to promote some market competition during non-curfew hours, between both Essendon and Melbourne airports, and also to encourage the use of more modern and quieter aircraft.

Senator RICE: Was there support for them? Did the proposals come from the jet operators themselves, or was it just the airport?

Ms Spence: I think that the airport had been discussing it with operators at the airport, but the actual proposals came from Essendon Airport management.

Senator RICE: It seems to be pretty squarely designed to benefit the jet operators. Would you would agree with that?

Ms Spence: No. I think some of the options that have also been included—for example, removing the non-emergency helicopters and propeller-driven aircraft from operating during the curfew. That is actually something that would assist the amenity of the community around the airport.

Senator RICE: But then, on the other hand, allowing jet aircraft to land during the curfew—swings and roundabouts!

Ms Spence: That's right.

Senator RICE: The community had just a few weeks to respond to these proposals? How long was the consultation period?

Ms Spence: The consultation paper went out I think on 11 September. We had submissions through until 10 October, but we had subsequent meetings with the community following the end of that consultation period.

Mr Phillips: The minister announced an extension of that submission period through to the 24th—tomorrow.

Senator RICE: Good. When is it proposed that the changes should be introduced, if there is a decision to go ahead?

Ms Spence: We'll take into account the responses that have been received on the consultation paper and then provide advice to the minister. Then it will be up to the minister's discretion in terms of what changes, if any, are made and what the timing of those would be.

Senator RICE: Is there intended to be any interaction with the ATSB's investigation of the February crash incident, given that that's due in April 2018? Are the two being looked at together?

Ms Spence: We wouldn't see the two as being linked.

Senator RICE: Even though it's going to have potential interactions, given the volumes of flights, types of flights, the different times of flights?

Ms Spence: As a matter of general practice, we would always consult with all the agencies. We would talk to CASA, Airservices and the ATSB as part of the final decision-making process.

Senator RICE: With reference to the proposals to lift the permitted weight limit for jet aircraft to 55,000 kilograms during non-curfew hours and to allow jet aircraft which meet strict noise criteria to land during the curfew hours, I've had lots of local residents very, very concerned about these because they feel the curfew is essential to their sleep. Would you agree that these changes will result in more noise at night for local residents?

Ms Spence: The non-curfew hours limits will actually allow the newer, quieter business jets to operate. In terms of the operations during the curfew, it is consistent with what happens at the other curfewed airports. In fact, it's actually more stringent requirements that we'd be talking about at Essendon Airport, but, yes, Senator, I understand what you're saying in terms of—

Senator RICE: You would agree it will result in more noise at night for local residents?

CHAIR: Senator Rice, once again I am loath to interrupt, but we're forced to do a couple of things here. Can I just have the floor for a moment? Dr Kennedy will now release the Civil Aviation Safety Authority and the Western Sydney Unit. I put you on notice that we're probably going to have to go for a spillover day for the agencies that we've let go. They'll probably be accompanied by some from tomorrow, I suspect. Senator Rice, we're going to do this in circuits now because we're running out of time and everyone needs a crack. You've got till the hour.

Senator RICE: It was two minutes past, I think, and you've just interrupted me for a minute.

CHAIR: With respect, I'm going to manage this now, because it's not fair for people to sit and miss their opportunity. We're going to go around in 10-minute blocks. We'll be back to you, Senator Rice. You've got till the hour.

Senator XENOPHON: So CASA has been dismissed?

CHAIR: We've got no prospect of getting to CASA—none. We're 4½ hours behind our schedule. Senator Rice, you have the floor.

Senator RICE: So you are confirming that it will be noisier for residents at night under the proposed changes?

Ms Spence: There will be new jet aircraft operating during the curfew, but, Mr Phillips?

Mr Phillips: If I could just clarify: the replacement of new, modern aircraft at a stricter noise standard could actually reduce some levels compared to some of the propeller aircraft that are operating at the moment. It's not actually a like-for-like replacement with the propeller versus the jet aircraft.

Senator RICE: Currently non-emergency helicopter and propeller-driven aircraft can operate during the curfew. How noisy are they?

Mr Phillips: Some of those aircraft might be operating at up to 95 decibels.

Senator RICE: But, with the jets landing at night, you are going to allow—

Mr Phillips: Ninety.

Senator RICE: planes of up to 90 decibels to land at night.

Mr Phillips: Yes.

Senator RICE: Presumably there will be more of them than of the propeller-driven aircraft that are currently landing during the curfew hours?

Ms Spence: Not necessarily.

Senator RICE: But, once you haven't got a curfew and you've got these jets that are clearly interested in landing—what numbers of landings from non-emergency helicopters and propeller aircraft do you currently have?

Ms Spence: We'd be happy to take that on notice. I don't have it with me.

Senator RICE: All right. You say that 90 decibels is the limit. I understand that a vacuum cleaner is only 70 decibels, so it's louder than that. Basically you are saying that it's louder than somebody suddenly deciding to run a vacuum cleaner in the middle of your bedroom at night. How is that considered to be a reasonable proposition for residents?

Mr Phillips: The noise certification is effectively a worst-case scenario. This noise level is measured with full flaps in operation in landing and full reverse thrust, so it's the noisiest possible landing. The average landing with these aircraft is around 10 decibels lower than that. And that's a volume measured at 120 metres or some precise number of feet.

Senator RICE: So you're saying it may be only 80 decibels, 120 metres from where it lands?

Mr Phillips: Yes.

Senator RICE: Where are the noise monitors that are in place at the moment?

Ms Spence: We'll have to take that on notice.

Senator RICE: So the measurement of that 90 decibels will be at 120 metres from where they land. Will there be noise monitors in place?

Ms Spence: We'll take that on notice, what the noise measurement arrangements will be.

Senator RICE: With regard to the change to the helicopters and propeller craft during the curfew, you're saying that there's not necessarily going to be more of the private jets. The discussion paper actually notes that there's very little demand for those movements at the moment. So I can't understand why you were saying that there's likely to be not much change in terms of actual movements.

Mr Phillips: There is not actually a great demand for the types of jets that we're talking about operating into Essendon. They have, I think, a fleet of some 44 operating out of Essendon airport, so it's not a large volume of jets.

Senator RICE: But it's the comparison between the two. Where did the proposal come from for that second one? It seems like a sweetener to make it seem reasonable to allow private jets to operate during the curfew?

CHAIR: That is your last question, Senator Rice.

Ms Spence: It will provide that limited number of jet operators more flexibility than they have at the moment. But we don't expect there to be a significant number of them taking up the option. It is between 11 and six and there is not a strong demand at those times. But, as I said, we would be very happy to take on—

Senator RICE: Cheap parking is what has been put to me—

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