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May 11, 2021

Public safety put at risk by airport developments

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This map shows that a section of the approved manufactured homes development at Evans Head airport is in the public safety zone. (supplied)
This map shows that a section of the approved manufactured homes development at Evans Head airport is in the public safety zone. (supplied)

The state government and Richmond Valley Council have been accused of putting the interests of developers over public safety by approving residential and commercial buildings near airport runways

The criticism followed the recent approval of a manufactured homes development near runways at the Evans Head Memorial Aerodrome.

Evans Head Memorial Aerodrome Committee president Dr Richard Gates said the failure of the NSW government to mandate Public Safety Zones around airfields and airports was nothing short of criminal negligence.

Dr Gates said information received from the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) in relation to a fatal plane crash at Essendon Airport showed that houses and a primary school were in the public safety zone.

‘For years the NSW State government has used an outdated ‘noise nuisance measure’, the Australian Noise Exposure Forecast or ‘ANEF’, to determine how close residential and commercial buildings can be built near runways,’ Dr Gates said.

‘However there is substantial international research which shows that aircraft noise is not an appropriate safety measure to determine how close construction should be to an active runway to be safe.

‘Local, state and federal governments have known that the ANEF is the wrong measure and have failed to act. The exception is Queensland which has Public Safety Areas around its airfields to shield the public from the risk of aircraft accident and to give aviators room to move should there be a problem.

‘While the federal government has provided a National Airports Safeguarding Framework based on the advice of the National Airports Safeguarding Advisory Group (NASAG), the framework does not include public safety zones, which begs the question ‘why have they been left out’ particularly when these are standard practice in most first world countries and the Queensland government has adopted them for their airfields?’

‘It is very clear the big developer lobby has captured the safety agenda and land use planning policy and is influencing policy and standards and planning decisions in ways which are not in the public interest. They are gobbling up our aviation infrastructure through inappropriate encroachment aided and abetted by the State.’

‘We have been making formal and informal representations about these matters for years to all levels of government, their bureaucracies and Senate Estimates. With one of our submissions to the federal government we were the subject of an FOI request. It would seem that what we had to say touched a raw nerve with the big developers and their powerful lobby groups. ”

“What brought the matter of Public Safety Zones to a head for us was the fatal Essendon aircraft crash earlier this year and discussion about it at Senate Estimates. CASA indicated that even if there had been a legislated Public Safety Areas, the accident would have occurred outside that ‘hypothetical safety zone’.

‘When we requested information supporting the CASA claim, they repeatedly fobbed us off until just recently. While the information they provided did not show the full extent of the hypothetical Public Safety Zone at Essendon, completed drawings showed many houses and part of a Primary School within the zone. Little wonder they weren’t keen to share the information! It confirmed our long held concern that residential and other buildings were far too close to the runway and flight paths of aircraft, a concern expressed by residents around Essendon.’

The public safety zone at Casino airport. (supplied)
The public safety zone at Casino airport. (supplied)

In light of this information and armed with the model used by CASA based on the Queensland standard, we plotted out the Public Safety Zones for both airfields controlled by Richmond Valley Council at Casino (Figure 1) and Evans Head (Figure 2).

For both airfields Council has approved extensive residential development well within Public Safety Zones where aircraft mishaps are most likely to occur. Council used the inappropriate ANEF or noise nuisance measure to make their determinations and no consideration was given to Public Safety Zones whatsoever . You have to wonder if they are even aware of them which begs questions of local government having the necessary expertise to make planning decisions involving the specialist area of aviation safety.”

The Joint Regional Planning Panel, which recently determined that a Manufactured Homes Estate could be built immediately adjacent to the airfield at Evans Head, also failed to take account of public safety areas in its deliberations and relied on council advice.

With regard to Casino Airport substantial residential development has occurred within the hypothetical Public Safety Zone. There has been at least one aircraft accident near a house in that zone.

‘In our view Richmond Valley Council and the State government must urgently put airfield public safety issues first, and implement appropriate legislation to make sure both the public and aviation interests are protected”.

‘Further, there needs to be a careful reconsideration of the “Affordable Risk Model” used by governments in risk assessment in aviation so that the public interest and human life and not moneyed interests come first.

‘When governments put money ahead of human safety, particularly when a problem can easily be fixed, there is not only a moral problem but a legal liability issue.

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