Flak flies over flight noise, fixes at second runway

Keira Jenkins, Savannah Meacham and Kat Wong |

A furore has erupted over noise levels at Brisbane Airport.
A furore has erupted over noise levels at Brisbane Airport.

Traffic controller Airservices Australia has been accused of misleading the federal government on the impact of a controversial Brisbane runway.

Brisbane Flight Path Community Alliance chair professor Marcus Foth has told a Senate inquiry Airservices Australia “cut corners” before Brisbane Airport’s second runway was built.

The 24-hour airport has become the centre of a local furore, with residents complaining about noise since its $1.1 billion second runway opened in 2020.

A Senate inquiry into the impact and mitigation of aircraft noise is examining potential solutions to the issue.

Prof Foth accused Airservices Australia of misleading the government in approving the second runway through fabricated noise comparison reports.

He claimed the second runway was approved without consultation or scrutiny, accusing the body of misleading the community about its impact.

“Airservices cut corners and marked their own homework,” Prof Foth told the inquiry on Monday.

A Qantas plane at Brisbane Airport
A Brisbane Airport curfew would provide substantial economic benefits to residents, an expert says. (Darren England/AAP PHOTOS)

The community group argued the simple solution to the noise issue was introducing a night curfew and capping the number of flights.

“Sydney Airport, which has now had a curfew and a movements cap for over 20 years is still a viable operating business,” Brisbane Flight Path Community Alliance committee member Sean Foley said.

“It hasn’t suffered a profit loss and it hasn’t gone bankrupt and there is no reason to believe that Brisbane Airport would suffer those kinds of problems.”

Economist linked to the University of Queensland John Quiggin found the financial benefits to residents by introducing a night curfew would be substantial.

An impact of 10 decibels led to an implied $4 billion-$7 billion reduction in property values, he found.

Prof Quiggin said the cost-benefit of night flights versus introducing a curfew for residents’ health and property value was significant.

Brisbane Airport Corporation CEO Gert-Jan de Graff said curfews and movement caps were “blunt instruments” and would not solve noise issues. 

“They might deliver some immediate relief to some community members but they don’t silence the noise entirely,” he said.

“Curfews generate problems of their own; they reduce access for regional Australians, they limit capacity and competition and therefore drive ticket prices up.”

Brisbane Airport Corporation representatives told the inquiry a voluntary curfew was in place on the new runway, unless the older runway was undergoing maintenance, in the hopes of reducing noise impact on the community. 

Qantas chief technical pilot Alex Passerini said noise reduction technology was available in the airline’s fleet, but airspace design and management had impeded its use. 

“That’s a great source of frustration for us,” he said.

Australian Airline Pilots’ Association, which represents more than 7100 pilots, made a submission raising concerns about political processes between Brisbane Airport Corporation and Airservices Australia to appease a “small but vocal segment” of the local community.

It says the complainants were “lulled into a false environmental perception by the lack of aviation activity during the majority of the COVID-19 pandemic” and are now concerned about the impact of these flights on their property values and quality of life.