New runways are invariably controversial and when Perth Airport entered the public review period for its Major Development Plan it knew it had to go above and beyond.
Under the spotlight was a $520 million project that would provide almost 500 jobs during construction and was essential to the economy of Western Australia.
It would inject about $2 billion into the West Australian tourism sector in the first 20 years of operation and enhance the international connections of a city once described as the world’s most isolated.
The airport is planning a 3000m parallel runway on a 293ha site. The runway will be about two kilometres from the existing main runway so both can operate independently.
The dynamics of resource-rich Western Australia mean that traffic at Perth Airport is invariably linked to the health of the mining industry.
Because of this, the airport has yet to set a specific opening date for the runway, but says demand and commercial agreements will see it happen somewhere between 2023 and 2028.
It is forecasting passenger movements to be about 172,000 annually by 2025, well above the 145,000-movement trigger for additional runway capacity, and to top 240,000 a year by 2045.
This makes it essential the necessary infrastructure is in place to cope with the growth.
Equally essential, airport management knew, was keeping the community informed if it was to bring residents along with the project.
The 60-day public consultation period closes on 24 August and during that time, staff will have provided the equivalent of more than 150 days of face-to-face opportunities in shopping and community centres. This is designed to allow the public to learn about the project and raise concerns.
Members of the public were also invited to learn more at the new Perth Airport Experience Centre, which was open six days a week near the T3 and T4 terminals.
And in addition to being able to download the MDP and accompanying fact sheets from the airport’s website, copies were made available in local libraries.
The program has been backed by advertisements in local newspapers, e-newsletters, the airport’s social media channels and a runway-specific website, newrunway.com.au.
The project has already been modified to mostly avoid a swamp important to the local Aboriginal community and the plan is to identify and secure offset sites in the Swan coastal area for affected birds and animals.
Then there are the noise implications. Some people will get less noise because aircraft movements will be spread across the parallel runway system and others will see little or no change.
But some will see increased noise or experience it for the first time.
“A new runway means new flight paths and we understand that not everyone is going to be happy about that,” Perth Airport chief executive Kevin Brown says.
“But by going out and talking with the community, we’ve been able to explain the project and provide responses to queries that they have.
“In many cases residents had feared the worst but once the project had been explained, went away feeling more comfortable.
“We’ve been able to explain that we have tried, as far as possible, to use existing flight corridors and to use them as efficiently as possible.”
Brown says the airport remains committed to engaging with local communities and explaining what the project means to them.
The community feedback to date largely reflects the findings of a recent survey showing a general acceptance of the need for the new runway.
“There seems to be a broad understanding in the community of how important this project to future economic growth and job creation in WA – particularly for exporters and the tourism and mining sectors,’’ Brown says.
The survey of more than 2600 residents found almost four out of five West Australians supported or strongly supported the plan to build the new runway while just seven per cent opposed it.
Just one in 10 respondents rated aircraft noise as an issue which affected their quality of life while four per cent rated it as major issue.
This compared with 22 per cent who rated road noise as a bigger nuisance than aircraft noise and 59 per cent said traffic congestion was a bigger problem, even in communities close to the airport.
The airport has always been an important part of Perth life and nine out of 10 respondents had visited it in the prior 12 months, 69 per cent of them as passengers.
Once the public consultation closes and the responses have been assessed, the MDP will be forwarded to the Minister for infrastructure and Transport who can approve or reject the plan within 50 days or seek further information.
The airport is hoping approval will come through in 2019, allowing it to finalise an on-ground and airspace management plan.
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.