Photo: Seth Jaworski
As our cities become more populated, the safe and effective management of developments on and near airport land has become an increasingly important issue.
While it’s an issue airports have managed effectively through extensive planning and legislative processes for many years, development just beyond the airport boundary operates in a different regulatory environment.
The Australian Airports Association (AAA) has long advocated for closer alignment between the guidelines for development on and near airports to ensure effective land use planning that delivers safe outcomes, meets community need and promotes a sustainable aviation industry.
AAA Chief Executive Officer Caroline Wilkie says a Senate committee’s endorsement of changes to regulations affecting on-airport development last week was an important step towards removing unnecessary regulatory burden in the planning requirements imposed on federally leased airports.
The Australian Senate’s rural and regional affairs and transport legislation committee recommended the Airports Act Amendments Bill be passed, updating the Airports Act 1996 that oversees development on airport land at federally leased airports.
The Act requires airports to undertake a regular master planning process, in addition to the completion and approval of master development plans (MDPs) for major projects. All master plans and MDPs are approved by the Federal Government, as well as review by agencies such as CASA when required.
The new Bill would see airports such as Adelaide, Canberra and Gold Coast submit master plans detailing their land use planning for the next 20 years for government approval every eight years, instead of every five years. Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth will continue to submit master plans every five years.
Specific airport projects would continue to be subject to MDPs, although a higher threshold would be set for when MDPs were required.
This compares to a very different approach beyond the airport fence, where state legislation and local government regulations oversee development – although airports also monitor development applications closely.
Wilkie says the Senate Committee’s recommendation is welcome progress, and an acknowledgement of airports’ commitment to long-term planning that ensures on-airport development remains safe and fit for purpose.
“The changes endorsed by the Senate Committee reduce unnecessary regulatory burden, while keeping the focus on achieving safe outcomes,” she says.
“What’s important now is making sure those developments outside the airport boundary are also subjected to appropriate review to ensure our land use planning supports our national aviation network.”
She says the next step was working with state governments to ensure that airport safeguarding principles are reflected in jurisdictional planning schemes to avoid incompatible developments beyond the airport, which could adversely impact safety or community well-being.
“While airports complete master plans, major development plans and go through extensive consultation processes before embarking on new projects, the same doesn’t always apply for development just outside the airport boundary,” Ms Wilkie said.
“As we see increasing demand for land in our cities, we must ensure our land use planning recognises the need to protect the airspace around airports to make sure they can continue to meet the needs of airlines and passengers for many years to come.
“This is also an important issue for communities – no one wants to see an apartment building constructed under a flight path where noise may be an issue when other developments would be more appropriate for that location.”
The AAA has advocated for state governments to amend their planning schemes to align with the National Airport Safeguarding Framework (NASF) to avoid land use planning outcomes that put aviation safety at risk or reduce community amenity.
The industry also supports the development of a new NASF Guideline for Public Safety Zones, with a consultation process on the guideline set to get underway soon.
Wilkie said the guideline would strengthen existing considerations of aircraft crash risks and general public safety completed through airports’ master plan processes, but would require adoption at the state government level to be effective.
“We must ensure all levels of government work together with airports to make sure we plan for the growth of our airports and our cities in a coordinated way, and ensure the safety and enjoyment of the community remains at the forefront of any considerations over new developments,” Wilkie says.
“The success of the process for developments on airport land proves this can be done well – but it takes a coordinated approach to make sure surrounding areas are not adversely impacted by poor development decisions in the future.
“If state and local government planning frameworks adopt these standards, we’ll be better able to ensure a safe and sustainable aviation industry that not only serves the community well, but better integrates with how people live, work and travel for years to come.”