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.