Aircraft noise consultation with East Melbourne residents to be considered under third runway plan
Airservices Australia says consultation with the East Melbourne community to reduce aircraft noise and alternative flight paths has been put on hold until Melbourne Airport’s plan to build a third runway is considered.
The $1.9 billion north-south parallel runway Major Development Plan (MDP) is an ambitious project that will expand the existing two runways at Melbourne Airport, as annual passenger numbers are expected to grow to about 76 million people by 2042.
Airservices Australia, the government-owned body provider of air traffic control, navigation, and related services in Australia, confirmed it would continue talks with East Melbourne residents – who have been lobbying for the past decade against aircraft noise – as soon as the third runway plan was considered, an announcement welcomed by residents’ association, the East Melbourne Group (EMG).
“Once finalised, Airservices will assess the implications of the final MDP on EMG’s proposed flight path changes and commence engagement with communities potentially affected by the EMG proposals,” an Airservices Australia spokesperson said.
The Federal Infrastructure and Transport Minister Catherine King, who gave the green light to the airport’s 2022 Master Plan, acknowledged the community’s concerns of aircraft noise, and had directed Airservices Australia to “revisit” the flight paths proposed by the EMG.
In a letter (dated in March this year) to the Federal Melbourne Greens MP Adam Bandt, who has long advocated on behalf of residents, Ms King said the MDP identified two primary flight paths options that were consulted on with the community for the proposed third runway.
“Pending its consideration, the ultimately agreed flight paths for the MDP will likely impact on the feasibility of alternative flight paths that have been suggested by the community for the East Melbourne area,” she wrote.
“Following my consideration of this MDP, and the longer-term certainty this will provide, I will direct Airservices to revisit these flight paths.”
The EMG’s planning convenor Greg Bisinella said their group was pleased that the Minister had “seen fit to direct Airservices Australia to continue to work on alternative flight paths for the large commercial jets flying over East Melbourne and adjoining residential areas” while also accepting that the flight paths were changed in 2014, which had continued to impact residents.
“The EMG sees this as a positive step to redress the inadequate process that was undertaken in 2014 and hopes that the outcome will be some amelioration of the noise and health impacts residents have been forced to endure,” Mr Bisinella said.
He also added the EMG was still working to achieve similar outcomes for the light aircraft and helicopter noise, “for which the Minister has indicated is a more complex issue”.
The City of Melbourne introduced a Fly Neighbourly Agreement in 2016 – which applied to helicopters to reduce the impact of aircraft noise with some general conditions applying to all aircraft operating in proximity to Melbourne – but residents maintain the issue was still “intolerable”.
Ms King outlined in her letter to Mr Bandt that following an Ombudsman investigation into complaints about flights paths over East Melbourne, which was finalised on June 10, 2021, Airservices Australia has been in ongoing discussions with the East Melbourne community on potential noise mitigation measures “and options to improve noise outcomes around East Melbourne through flight path modifications”.
She said work began in 2018 to potentially alter these flight paths to reduce impacts in East Melbourne was later brought to a stop as Melbourne Airport changed their intended third runway project from east-west orientation to north-south.
According to Melbourne Airport’s Master Plan 2022, the third runway, which is slated to open by 2027, is “critical to meet forecast passenger growth while maintaining on-time performance for interstate and international travel” and in turn allow “increase aircraft movements over time”.
Mr Bandt said he was pleased the Federal Government had started to listen to resident concerns of aircraft noise.
"The community has been pushing for years to get the government to act on constant flight noise,” he said.
"After being ignored by government for too long, we need to keep pushing Labor to give specifics about their plans to revisit the flight paths, how changes will be implemented, and whether this is a permanent fix or just a temporary reprieve.
“I’m glad this Minister has started to listen, but it’s disappointing there’s no action yet on smaller aircraft.
"In the past, the East Melbourne community hasn't been consulted about these major changes to flight paths, and that's not good enough. I'll keep fighting to make sure the community gets heard."
A Department spokesperson said managing aircraft noise was a difficult issue, and Australia applies the “latest international aircraft noise standards and all aircraft subject to the relevant regulations must comply”.
“Airservices Australia will review flight path options to Melbourne Airport that impact eastern Melbourne once the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government has made a decision on the third runway Major Development Plan and the preferred design for the flight paths to the new runway are better understood,” the spokesperson said.
“For smaller aircraft, Melbourne, Essendon Fields and Moorabbin airports all have variations of Fly Friendly guidelines to advise operators on how to best avoid built-up areas. The airports also have Community Aviation Consultation Group, which are the mechanism for ongoing community engagement on operational matters including aircraft noise.”
The Department also noted an upcoming Aviation White Paper would also consider better mechanisms for consultation on and management of issues including aircraft noise.