Jets arriving from the north tend to follow one of two paths.
Aircraft will generally approach from the north east, crossing the coast at Richter’s Creek, largely avoiding residential areas.
Aircraft using the Instrument Landing System on Runway 15 will approach over land directly from the north, flying over some suburbs. This approach will be used most frequently in poor weather, but international carriers will often use this approach regardless of the weather conditions. This type of approach requires aircraft to be at around 3000 feet when they begin their approach. Aircraft will descend steadily to the runway using the horizontal and vertical guidance provided by the system.
The approach from the south is straight in from the south-east, and passes over the central business district.
There is no minimum altitude for aircraft in process of landing. Aircraft will generally descend on a glide slope of three degrees.
Departure flight paths allow aircraft to maintain the runway heading for a short time until they are stabilised in flight, and then to turn towards the route that will take them to their destination.
Jet departures to the south turn soon after take-off to the east, crossing over the ocean. Some residential areas are over flown but these are limited to suburbs within four kilometres of the airport, and the central business district is not overflown.
Departures to the north turn to the north-east to cross the coast at Richter’s Creek. This flight path flies over a small number of suburbs.
The altitude of aircraft after departure will depend on factors such as the type of aircraft and its weight, how heavily laden it is with fuel and passengers, and the atmospheric conditions at the time. All these factors affect an aircraft’s climb rate. There is no regulated minimum altitude for an aircraft in the process of taking off.
A growing number of modern aircraft are now fitted with navigation systems that use satellite-assisted guidance which allow aircraft to fly with a higher degree of accuracy and more closely follow the same route as other aircraft. Airservices refers to these routes as ‘Smart Tracking’. Smart Tracking technology makes air travel safer, cleaner and more dependable. It also has the potential to improve noise outcomes for communities living close to airports.
In May 2013, Airservices implemented ten permanent Smart Tracking flight paths at Cairns. All but one of these tracks is within previously existing flight paths, and none fly directly over the city. The main benefit of Smart Tracking at Cairns is that more departing and arriving jets will be able to use the Richter’s Creek corridor north of the airport, which means that they avoid residential areas.
Flight path information
See below for images of typical flight paths and how frequently they were used in the quarter indicated. Please note that aircraft do fly outside the shown swathes. For example, the swathes do not extend to all the areas that are overflown by arriving aircraft prior to aligning with the runway, or show the full length of departure flight paths. Further, aircraft may be directed off the usual flight paths for reasons including the need to avoid bad weather or for traffic management, that is, to ensure safe separation between aircraft. See WebTrak for further information about where aircraft fly. More explanation is also available in the Why Aircraft Fly Where They Do fact sheet.
You can access historical information about flight path use through WebTrak. To access this information click the “Historical” link below the text in the Quick Start Guide at the top left-hand side of the screen. Then use the tick boxes at the bottom-right of the screen to select monthly, quarterly or yearly information. Use the sliders to refine your selection to specific timeframes.