Sydney Airport is back to operating on single runway operations, with strong winds again being blamed for the likely disruption.
As of 2pm on Friday, 18 departures out of the airport have been cancelled – though this figure is likely to rise further.
It significantly follows 170 flights into and out of the NSW capital being cancelled last week just as NSW’s school holiday getaway began.
Sydney operates two parallel runways at 1,037 metres apart that allow two aircraft to be on the final approach simultaneously, but only operating in visual meteorological conditions.
Crosswinds, which can affect an aircraft’s flight path, make having two aircraft flying close together dangerous.
“This decision is purely weather and safety-related to safeguard the travelling public,” an Airservices spokesperson told The Australian.
Australian Aviation understands the airlines and airports were aware last night that a potential closure was on the cards due to weather forecasts.
While Airservices, which oversees air traffic control, has insisted the shutdown is due purely to gusty, westerly crosswinds, it comes after a difficult week for the organisation.
On Wednesday, Australia’s biggest pilots’ union claimed air traffic control staffing issues are making skies less safe for pilots and passengers.
The Australian Federation of Air Pilots (AFAP) told Australian Aviation that its members have encountered “chronic” and “systemic” staffing problems at Airservices dating back to before the COVID-19 pandemic.
It came after reports emerged earlier this year that there were 340 instances of “uncontrolled airspace” from June to April 2023, with Airservices admitting to “staff availability issues”.
The issue then re-emerged last week after aircraft had to “self-separate” from each other and rely on radio broadcasts rather than centralised information from air traffic controllers.
Switching to TIBA – traffic information broadcasts by aircraft – leads to delays and cancellations, with Virgin’s policy not to operate in TIBA airspace when possible.
Airservices, however, insists its TIBA workaround procedure is both safe and “internationally recognised”.
Earlier this year, Airservices denied a long-term staffing issue, arguing it employed 900 ATCs but only required 800 to staff its network fully.
However, it also said more recently it is committed to enhancing its service resilience by recruiting more than 50 trainees nationwide in the next few months and that 80 air traffic controllers are due in the 2024 financial year.