Cairns Airport


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.

April - June 2018


There were eight complainants in quarter two 2018 which is a decrease from 12 complainants in quarter one 2018. However, this is an increase from three complainants in the same quarter in 2017.


The main issues this quarter were Standard flight path movements, with four complainants and Helicopters with three complainants. It is important to remember that a single complainant may have two or more issues.

Chart 1: Issues and number of complainants affected Q2 2018

Chart showing the number of complainants raising issues this quarter

Standard flight path movements

The complainants under this issue were affected by Runway 15 arrivals. Historically the use of Runway 15 increases in quarter two.


All of the complainants affected by helicopter operations resided in Aeroglen. Concerns included emergency services operations and the low altitude of the operations.


The operation of concern under the issue of Military, was a practised missed approach which was conducted in June. Military pilots must remain current on approaches at civilian airports and this is a published and standard procedure.


Five separate suburbs were affected by aircraft operations during quarter two 2018 and this is consistent with quarter one 2018, although some of the suburbs are different. This can be seen in Chart 2 below.

Chart 2: Comparison of suburbs and number of complainants Q1 and Q2 2018.

Chart showing complainants per suburb in quarter 2 compared to quater 1

Aeroglen residents were affected by ground running at the airport and helicopter operations.
Clifton Beach, Koah and Yorkeys Knob residents were affected by Runway 15 arrivals, while the resident of Holloways Beach was affected by the military practise missed approach.

January - March 2018


There were 12 complainants in quarter one which is an increase from eight complainants in quarter four of 2017. This is also an increase in complainants from quarter one 2017, which had seven complainants.


The main reason for the increase in complainants this quarter was due to an increase in ground running complaints at the airport, as can be seen in Chart 1 below.

Chart 1: Issues comparison, quarter 1 2018 and quarter 4 2017


Ground Running

Four complainants were affected by ground running over the quarter. All complainants were in suburbs adjacent to the airport. Information on ground running can be found on our Ground Running Factsheet, and also in April-June 2017 tab.

General aviation traffic

Three complainants raised the issue of general aviation traffic and an increase in their area. Inclement weather over the quarter required diversions by all types of aircraft which is a likely cause of this increase.

Chinese New Year

Special traffic management procedures were in place for Chinese New Year, due to the expected (and actual) increase of helicopter movements during February. During this time helicopters departed from the east side of the runway in a newly created temporary helicopter area. In February there were approximately 1000 extra helicopter movements compared to the other months in this quarter. This was not reflected by a substantial increase in helicopter complaints.


Five separate suburbs recorded complainants during quarter one, as seen in Chart 2 below.

Chart 2: Suburbs


The majority of residents of Aeroglen and Cairns were affected by ground running; however helicopter operations were also a concern to both suburbs.

Cairns North was affected by Standard flight path movements from both Runway 15 departures and Runway 33 arrivals. Machans Beach was affected by General aviation traffic.

2017 Overview


There were a total of 23 individual complainants for the year which is a decrease from 43 complainants in 2016.


In 2017 the two main issues raised in 2017 were Standard Flight Path Movements and Helicopters.

Chart 1: Issues and number of complainants who raised them in 2017

Issues 2017

Runway 15 operations, including both arrivals and departures, was raised by 10 complainants or 44 percent of all complainants. The prevalence of complaints about this runway is due to it being the primary runway in use at throughout the year due to the prevailing winds. However use of Runway 33 does increase in the warmer months of the year. This can be seen in Chart 2.

Chart 2: Runway Usage 2015-2017

Runway usage 2015-17


The suburbs with the most complainants in 2017 were Aeroglen, Cairns North and Yorkeys Knob.

Aeroglen is the suburb in which the airport is situated. The complainants in this suburb have raised a number of issues including Ground running, Helicopters, and Standard flight path movements.

Cairns North is located immediately to the south of the airport and is a suburb overflown by departures from Runway 15 and arrivals to Runway 33.

Yorkeys Knob is located to the north of the airport and is overflown by aircraft on approach to Runway 15 and aircraft on departure from Runway 33.

Chart 3: Suburb and complainant comparison 2017 and 2016

Suburbs and complainants 2016-17

October - December 2017


There were eight complainants in quarter four which is consistent with quarter three. There were 23 individual complainants in 2017.


Chart 1: Issues

Issues quarter 4

Flight Paths

Three complainants raised flight path issues in quarter four. The complainants all came from suburbs in close vicinity to the airport and are affected by aircraft movements on existing flight paths. There have been no changes to flight paths over these areas.


Two complainants raised the issue of military movements. The complainants were both affected by a military FA/18 aircraft conducting practise approaches to the airport. Military aircraft routinely conduct practise approaches at civil airports, as military pilots must remain current on using civilian navigation aids. Civilian navigation aids are generally not located at military airports.

Night Movements

Two complainants raised the issue of night movements, specifically in regard to early morning flights. Due to daylight saving in the southern states flight schedules may alter in the warmer months with some aircraft to southern destinations departing one hour earlier.


Six separate suburbs were affected by aircraft operations during quarter four. Aeroglen, Cairns North, and Holloways Beach, each recorded two complainants. The majority of complainants in these suburbs were affected by standard flight path movements. Night Movements affected complainants in the suburbs of Cairns North and Trinity Beach due to their close proximity to the airport.

July - September 2017


There were eight individual complainants for the third quarter of 2017. This is an increase from three complainants in the second quarter of 2017, and well below the 18 complainants recorded for the third quarter of 2016. There have been 16 individual complainants for the year-to-date.


The NCIS continues to refine how issues are classified and applied. We have recently decided to classify all complaints regarding movements that are tracking on the relevant flight path and within the normal altitudes as Standard Flight Path Movements. In our reporting to the community this will provide greater clarity about what can be expected in the normal course of operations at the airport. Additionally the issue of Unusual Movements will be used for commercial aircraft operating outside their usual flight paths at major airports. Examples of unusual movements include, weather diversions, traffic management, radar departures, direct tracking and missed approaches. The complaint classified this way in this quarter, as shown in Chart 1 below, was due to direct tracking.

The Night Movements category has been expanded beyond the previous 11pm – 6am hours to cover complainants who advise the NCIS that they have been disturbed by air traffic at any hour of the night.

Chart 1: Issues


As shown in Chart 2 below, the main issue this quarter was Runway 15 arrivals, with 50 per cent of complainants concerned about flight path movements affected by these operations. Historically due to seasonal winds the use of Runway 15 peaks in July and August and then declines over the following months as the use of Runway 33 increases.

The sub classification of multiple runway directions is used when a complainants’ location is such that they can be affected by the use of several different runways or arrivals and departures from the same runway.

Chart 2: Flight path issues

Flight path issues


Residents from six separate suburbs were affected during quarter three. Cairns North and Yorkeys Knob each recorded two complainants, while Smithfield, Speewah, Machans Beach and Koah recorded a single complainant each.

Cairns North was affected by Runway 15 departures, while Yorkeys Knob and Koah were affected by Runway 15 arrivals.

Smithfield and Speewah residents were affected by helicopter operations in the flight corridor and by emergency services operations.

April - June 2017

There were three individual complainants for the second quarter of 2017, down from seven in the first quarter of 2017, and well below the 14 complainants in the second quarter of 2016. There have been 10 individual complainants for the year-to-date.

Issues and suburbs

The main issue in the quarter was ground running, which was raised by two complainants. Ground running is the term used to refer to noise from an aircraft engine, which is being tested while the aircraft is stationary on the tarmac. One complainant is located at a neighbouring suburb while the other frequents the airport location, and the complaint relates to noise experienced while at the airport. Both complainants were referred to the airport as the airport is responsible noise associated with ground-running.

At times piston engine aircraft conducting pre-flight checks can be mistaken for ground-running on the airport. These checks are usually conducted in close proximity to the end of the runway prior to departure, and are a safety requirement.

The issue of night movements was raised by a resident of Smithfield however the complainant spends considerable amounts of time at Holloways Beach and the complaint relates to aircraft noise at that location during the hours of 11pm to 6am.

Each complainant resided in a separate suburb.

Chart 1: Issues
Quarter 2 Issues

January - March 2017

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
Quarter 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.

2016 Overview

There were a total of 43 individual complainants in 2016.

Chart 1: Issues raised in 2016

Issues 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

Runway usage chart 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.

October - December 2016

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.

Flight path
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.

July - September 2016


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.

April - June 2016


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

January - March 2016

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

Helicopter issue