on 20/12/2022, Airservices Australia provided a response to a question on notice taken in the 2022-23 Budget estimates October and November round (committee question number 240). The Courier Mail reported on this on 25 Jan 2023 in an article titled, “Flight path pain dives in post-COVID boom.” While BFPCA responded to the Courier Mail’s request for comment by providing the below rebuttal the day prior, sadly none of it made it into the article.

Essentially, Airservices suggest that there had been a 30% increase in the number of SODPROPS procedures, that is, sending flights over Moreton Bay, since the trial of its expanded use. It included data that between 8 July and 9 November 2022 there were 3,664 aircraft movements, compared to 2,665 between 9 March and 8 July 2022. Airservices suggest this represents an increase of 799 flights [sic, 3,664 – 2,665 = 999], or about 30%.

As far as the data goes, the 30% increase they quote is of course a furphy. While there may have been 30% more aircraft movements over water, there has also been a steep increase in the post-COVID recovery, which likely saw 30% more aircraft movements over the city, too. BFPCA will verify Airservices’ misleading claims once BITRE data for these time periods becomes available.

BFPCA cannot easily verify any data provided by Airservices in response to Senate Estimates. The Airservices data provided by the BAC runway usage tool is down – and has been for weeks now, the 4th month in a row so we cannot query any data.

BAC Runway Usage Tool continues to be unavailable

Prior to BAC taking down the Runway Usage Tool, BFPCA alerted Airservices and BAC that the data they published was all wrong – they admitted fault and took the tool off the web.

BFPCA assumes that Airservices are quoting total SODPROPS numbers and not SODPROPS only for the Weekend Trial Period. We cannot match up their dates they selectively quoted as the Trial Period Reports that they release are over different periods of time.

BFPCA calculations show that there has been about a 4% increase in hours at most based on a full day over the four months, but as we all know, Airservices make their stats show just about whatever they want.

BFPCA found that while SODPROPS for weekend use has gone up slightly, total SODPROPS movements for 24 hours have gone down. The number of planes over our homes have actually increased as well and getting back to pre-COVID levels. This means we still see only 52% over the Bay for a 24 hour period since opening of the new runway or 48% operating over the city. An overall increase of 2% from when only the Legacy runway was in use. Compare this with what BAC told the Courier Mail in 1999: 95% SODPROPS / over water use (article by Neale Maynard, 18 September 1999):

“It might be we can get 95 percent for nine months of the year and only 80 percent for the other three months,” he [Airport operations manager Cam Spencer] said.

The community was deceived, duped, and lied to.

SODPROPS is rarely used on weekends and has made absolutely zero difference. If anything, it has gotten worse on weekends as the number of early and late international flights have picked up substantially in the last few months as we have witnessed. Community members report that the Christmas period has been a complete nightmare with increased domestic flights as well.

BFPCA has attempted to make sense of the data available based on the trial reporting periods:

Airservices’ Extended SODPROPS Trial (weekends) has produced many weekends of ZERO SODPROPS USAGE (6-8am Sat/Sun and 8-10pm Sat).

Airservices Trial Report for the 3 month period 24 Aug to 23 Nov 2022 is showing limited success with little reprieve on weekends. Let’s look at the total usage of SODPROPS for this period:

  • 352 hours of SODPROPS usage for total 2,208 hours (3 months) = 15.9% of time
  • 2,220 SODPROPS movements of a total 46,000 aircraft movements (3 months) = 4.8% of flights
  • That means: SODPROPS usage for over the bay has only accounted for 4.8% of total flights in the last 3 months.
  • Weekends Extended SODPROPS total flight movements = 352 (214+138) 
  • Total Flights Weekend (Sat/Sun) in a 24 hour period = 10,090
  • That means: Only 3.5% of flights on weekends are for Extended SODPROPS hours.

Airservices seems to take the view that SODPROPS is limited by environmental factors and capacity constraints. BFPCA suggests that it is the number of flight movements that should be limited by the ability to safely use SODPROPS. That is how this project was sold to the community by Brisbane Airport and Airservices.

Airservices quietly removed SODPROPS as the priority 1 mode at all times prior to the new parallel runway’s launch on 12 July 2020 (see BFPCA PIR submission, 17 Nov 2022, pages 24 – 27). BFPCA demands that SODPROPS is reinstated as the priority mode at all times (24/7) now. On 17 Nov 2022 we have tabled revised Noise Abatement Procedures for Brisbane including a binding Noise Abatement Operating Plan for Airservices immediate attention and implementation (see BFPCA PIR submission, 17 Nov 2022, pages 12 – 23).

Collusion between Airservices and Brisbane Airport

As evidence of the collusion between Airservices and Brisbane Airport Corporation, on 17 November 2022 as part of our PIR submission we put on the public record in the appendix to our submission the “Key Messages” document Airservices produced in February 2022 for their airline and airport industry stakeholders released on their ENGAGE portal in the context of the proposal to increase the allowable tailwind at Brisbane Airport (see BFPCA PIR submission, 17 Nov 2022, page 28). It says:

“To enable long-term growth at Brisbane Airport (BNE), Brisbane Airport Corporation Pty Ltd (BAC) must maintain the ability to operate with minimal operational constraints.”

“The future profitability of Australia’s major airlines will in part depend on BAC’s ability to keep the parallel runway system unconstrained as movements along the east coast of Australia are set to double over the next 20-30 years.”

“The long-term benefits of Brisbane’s parallel runway system will only be realised if operational restrictions such as movement caps and curfews are avoided.”

This dispels any doubt about the neutrality of Airservices who are simply doing the bidding of the aviation industry at the expense of ordinary Australians. All trust is lost. Further, Airservices have admitted in Senate Estimate hearings that they have long ceased their original function as a regulator. BFPCA has no faith in either their ability or resources to fix the problem. We thus continue to call for a change to their CEO and ultimately the re-integration of Airservices into CASA.

As a result of the total loss of trust, BFPCA demands that independent external airspace design experts are engaged through an open and competitive tender process. This need is further corroborated by the fact that Airservices let go of many experienced members of staff as part of a staff redundancy program. Yet, they are now advertising for new airspace designers who have to be recruited and trained up first – likely done poorly considering past experience and internal staff feedback. BFPCA has no confidence in Airservices dispatching poorly trained staff trying to do a highly complex job.

This extends not just to the flight path and airspace design but also includes the community engagement and communication tasks. The community has lost all trust in Airservices considering leaked documents, whistle blower accounts, the experienced deceit and collusion with the private airport operator. As a result, BFPCA demands that the community engagement and communication task is performed directly by the federal Department.

BFPCA sincerely thanks dedicated community volunteers who have contributed to this scrutiny and data analysis. Join us here >

Categories: news