It’s an Australian first, it’s packed full of information and it’s been accessed by more than 105,000 people since it launched last November.
Brisbane Airport’s flight path tool has been a big success in terms of giving the residents across the city an insight into how the airport’s new runway might affect them.
A product of a collaboration between the airport and Airservices Australia, it shows jet arrival and departure paths for both the current and the new runway after it opens in mid-2020.
Users can find their house on a map or put in their address and find out what’s going to happen near them, including where there will be noise levels of 70 decibels or more.
And if they want to know how loud that is, they can access the informative knowledge centre to look at how it compares with other noise levels generated by passing traffic, trains or even having breakfast in a café.
They will also find a treasure trove of information that ranges from explanations of how aircraft generate noise to why runways are numbered as they are, different types of aircraft approaches and how flight paths are designed.
Brisbane Airport airfield and airspace planning manager Neil Hall says the idea was to give people a sense of where current and future flight paths would be in relation to them.
The tool was also designed to answer questions such as how high planes would be as they passed overhead and how many there would be.
“Ever since we put it in in November we’ve had very positive feedback across the community and across the broader aviation sector as to its technical accuracy, the amount of information that the maps provide and the knowledge centre that’s attached to it,” Hall says.
“It did take some time, bearing in mind we only had draft procedures from Airservices when we put it together initially.
“So there have been some alterations as those procedures have been finalised … little changes where they’ve done a bit more work on the departures and the arrivals.”
Hall says the tool is unprecedented in Australia because of the amount of information it displays and its iterative format.
“The amount of information is the thing,” he says.
Users can also look at what happens in the evenings, weekdays and overnight to see how the flight paths change.
Hall particularly likes the night feature which shows over-the-bay operations for the new runway and allows users to see what happens when the wind exceeds five knots and those operations can’t happen.
“It is quite different to what happens during the day so it’s really good to be able to explain that to people using the tool,” he says.
One aspect of flight paths on which the airport concentrated was trying to give the community a sense of the variability in the way aircraft fly — the way flight paths may spread out and differences in height.
“We’ve been updating the information to reflect what actually happens and trying to give a three-dimensional picture on a two-dimensional tool,” Hall says.
He cites an example on a recent departure flight path to the south where a bulge was added because aircraft fly over waypoint before they turn.
Changes have also been made as a result of community feedback.
“So it’s been quite an iterative process, which has been really good,” he says.
One example is aircraft heights. The feedback from the community was that planes could be lower than the tool indicated.
An examination showed that the departure levels reflected the mid- to upper- range of aircraft performance envelopes and that community was seeing aircraft that did not perform in that band.
Even Hall, a former air traffic controller, was surprised to find that 12-15 kilometres from the airport, there could be a 3000ft altitude difference between aircraft.
Hall says that could be due to a number of factors ranging from the way aircraft were flown by the pilots, to the load they were carrying or the wind.
That variability is now part of the software but Hall says people seemed to be more concerned about the lateral position of flights than their exact height.
He says they’re more concerned about whether aircraft pass over their house, how many they will get and what will happen at night.
Areas with noise levels above 70 decibels are displayed for both the current and the new runway but Hall notes the difficulty in trying to decided what levels to provide.
He says individual perception often comes down to the difference between the aircraft and background noise, but the tool reflects the requirements of the environmental impact statement.
Nonetheless, the airport team attempts to answer in a broad sense questions about noise levels below this “but it’s a hard to give an accurate estimate”.
To date the software, engineered by Spatial Media, has been glitch free and Hall says the low number of queries by phone, email and social media indicates people are satisfied with it.
“So really what that indicates to us generally is that the flight path tool is doing the job of answering people’s questions,” he says, adding that the fact that more than 105,000 people have each averaged more than three minutes on the tool indicates the level of interest.
The tool works in conjunction with BNE’s Mobile Information Centre, fondly known as Benny, which has been out to most areas of the city in the past 10 to 11 months.
As a result, says Hall, there are not many people in Brisbane who are unaware of the runway project or the changes happening next year.
While there is some concern from communities at the end of the runway, Hall does not believe it is significant.
“But we’re still looking for ways to provide that information to people going forward,” he says.
“So we haven’t stopped. We’ll still be going out to those areas to keep explaining and hoping we can continue to reach as many people as we can.”
By Steve Creedy
About Steve Creedy
An award-winning journalist, Steve began covering aviation in the United States in the early nineties before returning to Australia later that decade and editing The Australian’s aviation section for 17 years. He is editor of Airline Ratings and has co-authored books on industry initiatives aimed at reducing greenhouse emissions.
Steve has joined the AAA to write interesting and informative editorial on the aviation industry.