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Is Adelaide Airport's Curfew carefree?


Residents in South Australia’s capital do not like to be disturbed by the early arrival of jet airliners, at least judging by the introduction of a recent private member’s bill by one of their Senators. On 12 February 2014, Australian Greens Senator Penny Wright introduced the Adelaide Airport Curfew Amendment (Protecting Residents’ Amenity) Bill 2014 to prevent international flights landing between 5 and 6 a.m.

This is in response to an announcement by the federal Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development in late 2013 that he had given approval to a schedule of four early morning Cathay Pacific flight arrivals from Hong Kong, starting in April 2014. The flights are permitted to land at 5.10 a.m., during the ‘curfew shoulder period.’ The direct flights are expected to boost inbound tourism form Asia. The Coalition’s Policy for Aviation in the 2013 election campaign does state that the new government would amend the list of business and charter jet aircraft permitted to use Sydney and Adelaide airports during their curfew periods.

Adelaide Airport closes under a ‘curfew’ each night from 11 pm until 6 a.m. The shoulder period is one hour either side of the curfew, namely from 11pm to midnight, and from 5a.m. to 6a.m.  Under the Adelaide Airport Curfew Act 2000 (Cth) and associated regulations, the Minister can approve international landings within the curfew shoulder period. Permission for early arrivals can be granted under sections 7, 8 and 9 of the Act. According to the Department, Regulation 4 provides for international passenger aircraft to land between 11pm and midnight and between 5a.m. and 6a.m., subject to jet aircraft meeting the strictest noise standards, and with no more than 8 movements per week. Take-offs, which are noisier than landings, are not permitted.  During the curfew period, aircraft movements must occur over the sea to the airport’s west.

Note that the scheme set up by the legislation for approving aircraft landings in the curfew shoulder period is separate from, and considerably less restrictive, than the rules which apply to a curfew ‘dispensation’. The Guidelines for Dispensations for Aircraft to Operate at Adelaide Airport during Curfew Hours do not apply to a Minister’s decision to grant, or refuse to grant, permission under section 9, and as such generally relate to emergencies, search and rescue operations, and natural disaster situations. Any permission is not the same as a dispensation and the dispensation guidelines are not relevant to the Minister’s decision in this case.

The Bill proposes to remove the Minister’s prerogative of allowing early arrivals and, as the second reading speech notes, is designed to limit to federal Parliament the ability to vary the curfew for overseas flights, whether or not the Minister has previously approved such a landing. It does this by removing provision for international aircraft and associated aspects. It therefore remains for the national Parliament to decide whether or not Adelaide residents will be unduly disrupted by any early arrivals and if the economic benefits from the international traffic would outweigh any inconveniences.

There is a precedent for such a South Australian private member’s bill to pass through the Parliament and in this case it is the precursor to this amendment. On 22 March 1999, Mrs Chris Gallus, then Member for Hindmarsh, introduced to the House the Adelaide Airport Curfew Bill 1999 in an effort to address complaints about aircraft noise occurring in the vicinity of the facility. In 2000, the Bill established a curfew on aircraft operations at Adelaide Airport; imposed a penalty for breach of the curfew; and provided for certain aircraft movements during the curfew. A version of the Bill originally appeared as the Adelaide Airport Curfew Bill 1998 on 29 June 1998, passing the House, but lapsed in the Senate due to the subsequent Federal Election.

Adelaidians concerned about aircraft noise have other avenues to pursue, such as with the federal agency responsible for airspace management, Airservices Australia, which provides general background information on aircraft noise managements and noise FAQs. Adelaide Airport also provides background information in an aircraft noise fact sheet, which notes various means for constituents to lodge noise complaints. This includes representations to the Aircraft Noise Ombudsman, who is independent of Airservices Australia's executive, reporting directly to its board on performance in regard to aircraft noise management matters.

It’s not just Adelaide where this issue occurs. Air traffic and the demand for landing and take-off slots continues to grow, but airports remain where they were first built – often in locales that are less than ideal for the city that has grown around them. Conflicts look set to continue.