Airservices manages enquiries and complaints about aircraft noise and operations through the Noise Complaints and Information Service (NCIS). The information below is collected by the NCIS for the purpose of complaint management, analysis of issues and identification of causal factors. For this reason we refer to ‘complainants’ and ‘issues’. Complainants are people who contacted the NCIS. While some people submitted enquiries or comments rather than complaints, all are referred to as “complainants”. Issues are the primary concern they raised.
There were seven individual complainants for the first quarter of 2017, down from 11 in the fourth quarter of 2016.
Issues and suburbs
The main issues in quarter 1 were related to flight paths. Five complainants raised concerns including increased frequency of movements, a perception that something had changed and altitude. All these concerns were related to departures from Runway 15. All complainants were from suburbs immediately around the airport.
Chart 1: Issues
The suburb with the most complainants was Cairns North with three complainants. Cairns North is under the departure flight path for aircraft departing Runway 15. All the complainants raised concerns with Runway 15 Departures including an increased frequency of use and aircraft being too low.
There were a total of 43 individual complainants in 2016.
Chart 1: Issues raised in 2016
The two main issues in 2016 were helicopter activities (13 complainants) and flight paths (11 complainants). Concerns raised about flight paths included perceptions that there had been a change or the desire that a flight path be moved. Seven complainants raising this issue were affected by arrivals to Runway 15 from the north, one by departures from Runway 15 towards the south, and three by departures from Runway 33 towards the north.
Runway usage does change throughout the year, with Runway 33 movements increasing in the warmer months due to the seasonal wind patterns. However Runway 15 remains the predominant runway in use all year round, as can be seen in the Runway Usage Chart below.
Chart 2: Runway Usage 2014-2016
Chart 3: Suburbs 2016
The suburbs where most complainants resided in 2016 were Holloways Beach (seven complainants), Machans Beach (six complainants), and Aeroglen, Kuranda and Trinity Beach with four complainants each. The aircraft movements at Holloways Beach and Machans Beach were discussed in quarter 3 2016.
Aeroglen is the suburb in which the airport is situated. The complainants from this area have raised a variety of issues including helicopter operations, airport operations such as ground running, and military aircraft operations.
Kuranda is northwest of the airport and is affected by arrivals tracking from southern airports to land on Runway 15. It is also affected by some departures off both Runways 15 and 33 if their destination is to the west or northwest. Complainants from this area in 2016 have raised the issue of military aircraft operations, helicopters, and aircraft involved in survey airwork.
Trinity Beach is further north of the airport than Holloways Beach and Machans Beach and is overflown by aircraft approaching to land on Runway 15 using the instrument landing system. All complainants from the suburb were concerned with the amount of air traffic on this approach and a belief that the instrument landing system would be used only in poor weather. While the instrument landing system is always used in bad weather, it can also be used in good weather. International airlines will often prefer this type of approach because it is standard around the world.
There were 11 complainants in quarter four, down from 18 in quarter three.
Four complainants raised the issue of increased traffic as a result of parachute skydiving operations that occur in the designated area (known as Danger Area 762 or D762) to the south of the city. This activity has been undertaken in that area for a number of years.
The complainants advised that the increased traffic to and from the drop zone was the problem, as was the increased use of the existing Visual Flight Rules corridor to move the aircraft involved in the skydiving operation.
Three complainants raised flight path issues in quarter four. All complainants were from Holloways Beach, with two concerned with Runway 33 departures and one concerned with Runway 15 arrivals. There have been no changes to flight paths over the area. Due to the proximity of Holloways Beach to the airport, the area experiences traffic from both arrivals for Runway 15 and departures off Runway 33.
The suburbs with the most complainants in quarter four were Holloways Beach and Kuranda, each with three complainants.
There were 18 complainants during the third quarter, a slight increase from quarter two. A total of 34 individual complainants have contacted NCIS since 1 January 2016.
Seven complainants were concerned about helicopter movements.
There was a slight increase in concerns about Emergency Services helicopter operations from the previous quarter. Emergency Services operations are on call 24 hours a day and operate when required. They are provided with every assistance in their operation and this will often include direct tracking, that is, the most direct route to and from their mission. This may place them over suburbs that are not normally affected by aircraft noise.
In September there was a maritime emergency off the coast to the north east. This event did affect the flight paths of both fixed wing aircraft and helicopters as they were diverted to provide assistance.
Chart 1: Breakdown of helicopter issue
Due to the navigation rationalisation project which includes the decommissioning of ground-based navigation aids in favour of satellite technology, Cairns Airport is now one of the few airports in far north Queensland with a non-directional beacon (NDB). Pilots are required to maintain currency on this type of approach and will request it at times for this reason. When this occurs residents will notice aircraft in different flight patterns. This is not a new flight path as it has been in use for many years, however, pilots generally use the more advanced navigation aids available at Cairns Airport.
The two suburbs that recorded the most complainants in this quarter were Machans Beach (4) and Holloways Beach (5), both located immediately to the north of the Airport. Both of these suburbs are listed as noise sensitive areas in Cairns Noise Abatement Procedures.
Due to the close proximity of Machans Beach to the Airport residents will notice any change in aircraft operations and whether or not they are on the expected flight paths. During this quarter residents were mainly concerned about helicopter operations to and from the airport and the altitude of these aircraft.
Holloways Beach residents were mainly concerned about departing aircraft. Typically, from July the use of Runway 33 begins to increase due to seasonal wind patterns, which means suburbs to the north of the airport experience more departing aircraft.
Both suburbs can be affected when air traffic control are required to expedite aircraft for arrival or departure for traffic management purposes.
There were 14 complainants during the second quarter compared to eight in the first quarter. In total, 19 individual complainants contacted NCIS between 1 January 2016 and 30 June 2016.
Chart 1: Issues raised this quarter
The issue highlighted most was the flight path for arrivals to Runway 15. Five complainants were concerned that the flight path was located over their area, or felt that the flight path had changed, or was different from usual.
There have been no changes to designated flight paths for Cairns however changing seasonal weather patterns create the perception that flight paths have changed. During this quarter the use of Runway 15 increased compared to the previous quarter. This is the usual seasonal pattern.
While flight paths have not changed in Cairns on occasion air traffic control direct an aircraft off the usual flight path to ensure that safe distances are maintained between aircraft. This may occur during very busy periods when the airspace is congested to ensure the safe and efficient flow of air traffic. It may also occur if there are emergency services operations such as police, medical or ambulance helicopters occurring in the vicinity of a flight path.
Chart 2: Breakdown of change of, different or location of flight path issue
“YBCS” is the airport code for Cairns. The number “15” refers to the runway direction
Issues and suburbs
There were eight complainants in the first quarter. Five complainants raised the issue of helicopter movements. The majority of complainants were from suburbs adjacent to the airport and were affected by helicopters arriving to and departing from the airport.
Helicopters will be at lower levels when in the process of taking-off and landing, but once established they will not fly over populated areas below 1000 feet. Helicopters may fly below these levels within specified areas, though most helicopters are forbidden from flying at less than 500 feet (152 metres) above the ground, unless during take-off or landing. Occasionally, helicopters need to fly at lower levels for law enforcement, military or search and rescue.
Helicopters are often used for services that are of benefit to communities, such as fire-fighting, crime prevention, search and rescue and media coverage. Helicopter operations require flexibility and can be required to fly over residential areas that are rarely flown over by other aircraft.
Chart 1: Breakdown of Helicopter Issues