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Pilot union rejects Brisbane noise abatement measure

written by Hannah Dowling | May 26, 2022

Virgin Australia Boeing 737-8FE departs from Brisbane at sunset. (Michael Marston)

A pilot union has strongly opposed a new initiative to reduce aircraft noise above Brisbane Airport, arguing it could compromise safety.

The Australian Airline Pilots’ Association (AusALPA) attacked the plan to extend tailwind limits from five to seven knots, which would allow more aircraft to take off over Moreton Bay, as opposed to the city’s suburbs.

It also significantly comes after safety authority CASA last year knocked back a similar plan to increase the limits from five to 10 knots. International regulatory standards that say noise pollution should not be a factor in changing tailwind allowance.

A tailwind is wind that blows in the same direction that the aircraft is travelling. Aircraft generally both take-off and land into headwind – which flows in the opposite direction to the direction of travel – however they can, and do, operate in tailwinds when required.

Increasing the allowable tailwind would mean that aircraft at Brisbane Airport could continue to take-off and land over Moreton Bay, as opposed to the city, even when the wind blows in that direction up to speeds of seven knots.


On Thursday, the Australian Airline Pilots’ Association (AusALPA) said CASA should again reject Brisbane Airport and Airservices’ attempt to increase allowable tailwind, stating it would “reduce safety levels”.

“We are calling on the Civil Aviation Safety Authority not to vary current tailwind limits at Brisbane Airport because we are concerned this will increase risk to aircraft taking off and landing,” said AusALPA president Captain Tony Lucas.

This all comes after residents of inner-city Brisbane suburbs spent months lobbying and protesting against excessive aircraft noise pollution over their homes following the introduction of Brisbane’s second parallel runway.

The airport opened its new parallel runway in July 2020, and simultaneously implemented a slew of new flight paths that residents have since stated do not meet the expectations set in consultation with the community prior to the runway’s approval.

“We understand that nearby residents may have been given a false sense of what aircraft noise levels would be, however there are many ways authorities can manage this issue, rather than increasing the risk for both pilots and the travelling public,” Captain Lucas said.

“Ideally, aircraft take-off and land with a headwind as it is safer and more efficient. Aircraft have more control, speed on the runway is reduced, terrain clearance is improved, there is less noise, and reduced wear and tear on the aircraft.

“What pilots and passengers don’t need is to be landing with higher ground speed and increased risk. Normalising tailwind operations reduces the capacity of our members to operate as safely as international standards require,” he added.

According to Lucas, there is increased risk when aircraft land with a tailwind of five knots or greater, pointing to a 2012 article released by Boeing which found that 42 per cent of all runway landing overruns between 2003 and 2010 occurred while landing in tailwinds of five knots or higher.

“It is dangerous to normalise tailwind operations,” Captain Lucas said, noting that Brisbane’s adoption of increased tailwind allowances could also see other airports around the country attempt to adopt the same change.

“Pilots are always extremely safety conscious and AusALPA is not comfortable increasing the complexity of our operation and consequently increasing the risk to the travelling public,” he concluded.

The change to allowable tailwind forms one of various tactics being trialled by BAC and Airservices in an attempt to reduce aircraft noise over Brisbane, due to increasing community outrage.

A spokesperson for BAC said it “regards safety as the most important consideration for airport operations”, and noted that it was taking multiple measures to attempt to reduce aircraft noise pollution for Brisbane residents.

“It is important to note that BNE operated with a 10 knot allowable tailwind for thirty years without safety incident,” the spokesperson added. “In 2017 CASA advised Airservices Australia that this would be reduced to 5 knots.”

“After a comprehensive safety consideration and analysis with airlines, Airservices Australia, and BAC, and with agreement on a range of recommended controls, a 7 knot safety case has been submitted to CASA. Appropriately, CASA will make the final determination on this matter,” they said.

In April, Brisbane MPs promised that Brisbane Airport’s flight paths would be “ripped up and redrawn”, in a major win for residents fighting against increased aircraft noise pollution.

In a joint statement, the MPs pledged to introduce all recommended changes to flight paths and airport operations, as proposed in an interim report under Airservices Australia’s post-implementation review of the airport’s newly introduced flight paths.

Speaking at the airport, then-federal minister for Brisbane Trevor Evans said a total of 49 changes to flight paths would be introduced “immediately” in order to mitigate aircraft noise for inner-city residents, who collectively made nearly 10,000 complaints to Airservices Australia about noise pollution since July 2020.

Just weeks earlier, Labor also pledged to work towards a desirable outcome for Brisbane residents, with then-shadow minister for transport and infrastructure Catherine King stating the party would instate a permanent forum to monitor aircraft noise levels over Brisbane and launch a new white paper into Australia’s national aviation policy.

The white paper would have a particular focus on general aviation and training, to ensure the sector is prepared for post-pandemic recovery and growth.

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Comments (14)

  • Adrian P


    Of course Melbourne Airport and Airservices Australia will have to go through this again with the Runway Development Program. There is another fly in the ointment for Melbourne regarding the Victorian Supreme Court case, Bald Hills Wind Farm ordered to stop emitting night-time noise, pay neighbours damages in landmark ruling.

    • Adrian


      Why your comment about Melbourne?
      Article’s about Brisbane…

      • Michael


        Because Melbourne Airport is giving the same ” nothing to worry about” noises that Brisbane got before being inflicted with this disastrous noise pollution. This is an Australia wide problem. Airports are being expanded beyond their originally planned low environmental noise capacities at huge cost to their neighbours.

      • Adrian P


        It is a national problem that needs to be resolved by the industry as a whole rather than keep making the same mistake as individuals. Also there is a common factor in route planning called Airservices Australia which we would hope gain some wisdom through experience.

  • tmatt44051


    In theory an increase from 5 to 7 kts tailwind would not have a great effect on safety if viewed in isolation. Both of Brisbane’s RWYs are over 3km long, so this would not pose significant performance issues. If BAC wants to implement this change perhaps it could be introduced on the new RWY only where more high speed taxiways are available. The original RWY only has the one high speed taxiway available for landing and a tailwind generally means aggressive breaking is required to ensure time on RWY is reduced to allow for efficient flow of take offs and landings.

    Having said that, safety has been compromised significantly by CASA and airlines over the last couple of decades. An example of this is the creep in allowable duty limits through the introduction of a FRMS system. This enables airlines to consistently roster fatiguing duties and pairings for its pilots.

    By decreasing safety controls in other aspects of the flying operation we are increasing the risk of the Swiss cheese lining up and a major safety event occurring.

    Let’s stop reducing these safety controls or the residents complaining about noise might have something more significant to complain about like a B737 ploughing through their front yard.

    • CapnJames


      “like a 737 plowing thru their front yard” …. 30 years pilots have been operating with up to 10 knots. Its called prior preparation and planning prevents piss poor performance, You plan to have that crosswind, so land accordingly. No one lives withing 5 kms of the airport, so even if a dreamliner over ran the runway and plowed thru all the bush, creeks and fences roads etc and made it into the perimeter road, theres zero chance of it ever going into someones backyard. Ive worked for a lot of years at YBBN, Also you blame casa etc, how about yourself and those operating the aircraft, safety just like every other industry is the responsibility of everyone! If a pilot is feeling excessively “fatigued” they are more than empowered enough and hopefully intelligent enough to put their little hand up and say oh im a tired little old man and need some sleepy byes. I wont stupidly plow thru someones backyard because ive under estimated. Yes i know fatigue can happen to anyone, but as glorified bus drivers, who happen to fly rather than drive with hundreds of people on board, you should have the huevos to say hey i might not fly anymore because im a either to old and need to hang up the hat or b i need to make changes in my life to support my job, protect said passengers and my own professional career. The solution isnt just always biting the hand that tried to protect you ie casa etc. If you cant add positively to a situation, dont. Swiss cheese model or not, ultimately if you sit there, do nothing and choose to follow the holes or just keep poking creating holes whilst not offering viable solutions you have no one to blame but yourself.

  • Rachael Krinks


    Why risk lives to push a problem from loud well connected well funded inner city campaigns to get the flights ‘over the bay’, when in the bay, there are 13,000 of us, living on islands, already suffering from increased flight path noise and we DO NOT WANT more flights ‘over the bay’.

  • John


    If they can’t take off and land by the sea then clearly the airport is poorly designed and should be removed from the city to a more suitable location where it doesn’t negatively impact hundreds of thousands of people

    • Stu Bee


      Because the wind only blows in one direction right? LOL

  • Brendan Berry


    People complaining about aircraft noise really need to get a life and grow up. People living on train lines or major highways don’t complain… and besides, when these snivelers’ go on holiday, what’s the first thing they do?? book a flight on the same aircraft they are complaining about. We have people losing loved ones due to Covid, people living in cars or on the floor in friends homes because of the floods, yet these people complain about aircraft noise and risk a disaster..

    • Edward


      Nailed it! I live next to a main road as that’s all I can afford and I have trucks, speeding cars including the latest scourge of Mercedes and VW Golf cars with modified exhaust that wake our sleeping children! A few Ks away (Upper Brookfield), are some of the folks that are complaining loudly. The same planes fly over our house as well and we couldn’t care less – as they’re arrivals and not particularly loud. Absolutley nothing compared to the relenless traffic that starts at 5am. We also fly so how coudl we complain? Everyone wants to have their cake and eat it too! First world problems folks – get over yourselves and try living next to a busy raod or rail line! We can’t all enjoy the good life in semi acerage hideaways!

  • chris


    There is a reason why typically a/c have a certification maximum tailwind limit, no matter how long the runway happens to be that they are planning to land on.

  • chris


    There is a reason why most a/c have a tailwind limit specified in their limitations section (established as part of the certification process). This limit is not contingent on how long the runway happens to be.

  • John Juratowitch


    Brisbane Airport Corporation BAC in lobbying for approval to construct the New Parallel Runway NPR “There would be much less noise as the Vast Majority of Flights would be Over the Bay OTB, Taking Off from one runway and Landing on the other.” About 3% of flights have used this mode since the NPR opened,
    So according to BAC 3% = a Vast Majority.
    Aircraft for safety reasons generally both take-off and land into headwind. About 70% of the time in BNE winds are from the SE Quadrant and 30% from the West Quadrant. Both the NPR and the Legacy runway align to the West.
    Both the old Eagle Farm Runway and the now unused R14 runway aligned to the SE were more suited to the prevailing wind.
    Maroochydore airport built their longest runway to suit the prevailing SE winds with a secondary runway to suit the Westerly Quadrant. So why did BAC do the reverse? there was room to upgrade and extend the R14 (less flights over built up areas, more over water and over industrial areas) .
    Apparently BAC decided that they could maximize their flights per hour with long two parallel runways regardless of prevailing wind patterns and increased noise and flights over built-up areas.
    Air Services Australia ASA in house flight paths have been described by many experienced pilots as the worst in the World.
    The Australian Noise Ombudsman has agreed that Federal Ministers and the Brisbane Community have been misled.
    Barnaby’s Forum ‘s Interim Report has identified 49 items in the Air Services Australia current flight paths that require revaluation with some changes to be trialed immediately.
    Current Federal Air Noise Regulations have no Decibel limits for BNE.
    Sydney and Melbourne have Curfews and capacity limits with more noise controls.
    Without a Ministerial directive Barnaby’s Forum’s SUGGESTIONS are being waited out by BAC (Who have a 99 YEAR LEASE). What is a Ministers tenure?
    The Liberal and Labour Party candidates in the current election do not give unqualified support to the Private Members bill before Parliament for a Curfew and a Capacity limit for BNE similar to other major East Coast Airports?”
    BNE now has three noise affected Federal Seats held by Greens.
    JOHN J

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