Australia: Flight Path To The Future: National Aviation Policy Green Paper

The Federal Government has released a Green Paper on its National Aviation Policy with a view to developing a comprehensive aviation industry strategic plan. The Green Paper was prepared after the release of an Issues Paper: Towards a National Aviation Policy Statement in April 2008 and the review of nearly 300 submissions from community groups, peak bodies, major airlines and airport operators.

The Green Paper addresses several aspects of the aviation industry, including aviation safety and security, industry skills and productivity, consumer protection and general issues associated with domestic, regional, international and general aviation.

This article focuses on the environmental and planning aspects of the Green Paper, namely:

  • the regulation of development on leased federal airports, in the vicinity of airports and under flight paths;
  • aviation emissions and climate change; and
  • noise impacts.
  • Development in and near airports

Development on leased Federal airports is governed by the Airports Act 1996 and related regulations. The process includes the development of a Master Plan, an Airport Environment Strategy and, in certain circumstances, a Major Development Plan and a requirement to obtain approval for building activities. The Airports Act excludes the operation of State and local planning, development and environmental legislation to the extent that it relates to activities approved under this process.

Of course, the Airports Act does not apply outside the airport boundary, where development is regulated at a State and local level, for example, through planning schemes. Several issues arising out of this process have been identified in the Issues Paper and in submissions, and addressed in the Green Paper, namely:

  • the need to take a coordinated (but not over-regulated) approach to the development of leased federal airport sites to ensure that it is more integrated with planning for the surrounding areas and that the interests of communities are given proper consideration in planning and development processes;
  • the need to closely scrutinise non-aeronautical development on airport sites to ensure that such development does not prevent the site from reaching its full potential as an airport; and
  • whether airports should be required to pay developer contributions for infrastructure support costs, given the impact of airport development on roads and other infrastructure.

The Federal Government proposes to adopt the following key initiatives in response to these concerns:

  • establishment of Airport Planning Advisory Panels, drawn from industry, community and government, for each of the major airports to provide independent expert analysis and advice to the Minister;
  • examining the impact of airport development on surrounding transport and community infrastructure and how the leased federal airports might contribute to this infrastructure;
  • strengthening of the airport Master Planning process to provide greater transparency and certainty about future land uses at the airports, including the potential requirement for a ground transport plan, which would address issues such as public transport and car parking access for passengers, workers, 'meeters and greeters' and visitors to commercial developments at airports;
  • providing a power for the Minister to call for additional detail in precinct plans for areas which have been proposed for non-aeronautical development;
  • a review of triggers for the airport major development process to ensure those developments of most interest to the community are subject to proper consultation – examples of such triggers could be related to impacts on access to airports, traffic congestion, local transport networks and noise;
  • introduction of a Ministerial call-in power to require lodgement of a Major Development Plan for proposals that may have significant community impacts based upon objective criteria to be developed in consultation with other levels of government, the industry and the community;
  • establishment of community consultation groups with an independent Chair at each airport to foster effective community engagement in airport planning issues – such groups will be funded by airport lease holders and will include airport and government representatives as well as representatives from local communities and users; and
  • establishment of a clear policy on the definition of public safety zone areas around airports, which can be taken into account in local planning.

Despite some calls for development on airport land to be subject to State and local planning and environmental regulation, the Federal Government has stated that the Commonwealth Minister will retain final decision-making authority for land use planning and development on federal leased airport sites.

Climate change and aviation emissions

Civil aviation emissions account for about 2% of global greenhouse gas emissions and this contribution is expected to increase as the industry grows. This growth is expected to counter the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions already achieved through:

  • the work done by Airservices Australia with the airlines to implement fuel saving measures on flights, including flexible flight tracks, aircraft air traffic control sequencing and introducing continuous descent approaches; and
  • fleet upgrades to modern fuel efficient aircraft.

The Green Paper has also referred to the potential contribution of voluntary offset schemes offered by Qantas, Jetstar and Virgin Blue to reducing aviation's net carbon footprint. While the take up of these measures with customers is increasing, it is important to ensure the reliability and credibility of such schemes to ensure, amongst other things, that the charges are applied to genuine reduction activities with proper reporting and verification.

In order to tackle the very specific climate change issues confronting the aviation industry, the Federal Government intends to:

  • finalise the design of the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS), including application of the scheme to domestic aviation emissions;
  • consider means to support the uptake of operational and other measures to constrain the net carbon footprint of aviation, which complement the actions taken in the CPRS;
  • continue the initiatives of Airservices Australia to work with airlines on the implementation of fuel saving measures including flexible flight tracks, improving air traffic control sequencing and introducing continuous descent approaches;
  • work with the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and the group established by it to address emissions from international aviation, namely the Group on International Aviation and Climate Change, which is due to develop a program of action to recommend to a high-level ICAO meeting in 2009;
  • work towards a better understanding of aviation emissions and their impact, including through the development of tools for comprehensive carbon monitoring and footprinting; and
  • assist all economies in the region to respond to the need to reduce their carbon footprint through Australia's bilateral agreements and involvement in APEC and ICAO.

The CPRS White Paper is due to be released on 15 December 2008, with exposure draft legislation to be released early 2009.

Noise Impacts

Noise arising from airport operations are the main source of concern from communities living near airports and under flight paths. Difficulties arise, in particular, where residential communities and other noise sensitive uses develop near well established airports.

While there is some pressure to impose curfews at airports, as is currently the case for Sydney, Gold Coast, Adelaide and Essendon airports, the Government's preference is to provide airlines and operators with curfew-free access. The Government intends to maintain curfews currently in place and to work with all levels of government and the industry to ensure access for airlines and air freight services to major airports such as Brisbane, Cairns, Canberra, Melbourne and Perth.

Such measures include:

  • working with state governments to ensure land-use planning and operational restrictions on noisy aircraft are consistent with maintaining curfew-free access;
  • limiting the operation of noisy aircraft and to phase out marginally-compliant aircraft and encouraging fleet upgrades to more modern aircraft;
  • considering industry-funded amelioration programs where airport operations and air traffic changes place residence into existing high-noise exposure zones;
  • investigating more appropriate roles for airlines, airport operators, governments, planning agencies and the community in aircraft noise management and mitigation;
  • continuing to develop a new noise information framework to ensure information on noise exposure patterns is readily available in a form that is easily understood by a broad audience; and
  • working through the Council of Australian Governments and other forums to ensure a national land-use planning regime is put in place near airports and under flight paths to avoid noise-sensitive developments being located in these areas and to protect communities from excessive levels of aircraft noise.


The Government has invited further public comment on the Green Paper with submissions due by 27 February 2009. Submissions will feed into the Aviation White Paper which is due in the second half of 2009.

The strength of the aviation industry is a critical factor in the Australian economy, in particular, in relation to our thriving tourism industry. The Aviation White Paper will therefore complement the National Long Term Tourism Strategy, the development of which was announced in May 2008.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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