Airservices Australia systematically stonewalls community members with legitimate complaints about aircraft noise, claims local community group Brisbane Flight Path Community Alliance (BFPCA).
Community complaints manuals obtained through Freedom of Information requests show how Airservices staff are instructed to provide pre-scripted answers designed to quash complaints and prevent them from progressing to investigation or referral to the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) or to the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications.
David Diamond, Chair of BFPCA, said the FOI documents vindicate community claims that Airservices Australia has been shirking its responsibility to conduct genuine investigations into noise complaints.
“The Air Services Act 1995 requires Airservices to protect us from aircraft noise. However, the FOI documents reveal that ‘air traffic management efficiency’ takes priority over protecting communities,” Mr Diamond said. “Boilerplate responses fill the 207 pages of these manuals, and our communities in Brisbane can attest to the frustration at being deliberately stonewalled. In Senate Estimates, Airservices has been described as nothing more than an ‘information and data logging service,” he said.
As Australia’s international borders re-opened, there is a significant increase in air traffic. With this has come a surge in complaints about the excessive noise pollution from Brisbane airport’s new flight paths. Complaints about aircraft noise anywhere in Australia are centrally handled by Airservices’ dedicated Noise Complaints and Information Services (NCIS) team with seven staff located in Sydney.
The FOI documents obtained by BFPCA include their current internal procedures and staff training materials. Of the total 207 pages, just under half a page deals with “noise improvement investigations.” The remaining pages instruct NCIS staff in how to send boilerplate responses arguing that complaints are unjustified and nothing can be done. Suggested replies include, “this cannot be changed,” “investigations already conducted,” “no investigation will be conducted,” “no direct transfer to Department.”
“The government and aviation industry have created a dedicated team charged with purposefully stonewalling complainants. It conveniently shields decision makers from hearing people suffering aviation noise pollution,” Mr Diamond said.
“A recent complainant asked, ‘what is the point of having a complaints process at all?’ Airservices’ response they shared: ‘There is little that could be done to alleviate the noise you experience.’”
If complainants do not give up and submit further complaints, Airservices staff are instructed to treat this as “unreasonable behaviour.” The training manual suggests these ‘difficult people’ are to be put on a management plan. This imposes access restrictions such as limiting phone calls or email contact “including deleting without reading submissions.”
“To top off Airservices’ stonewalling tactics, we also found that noise complaints get underreported on purpose,” David Diamond explained. Airservices only reports on the number of complainants and issues raised each month – not the total number of complaints received. This hides the true impact of excessive noise pollution experienced by local communities.
The Government’s latest “Statement of Expectations for Airservices Australia” only requires Airservices “to continue to improve the flow and quality of information to noise affected communities.”
“The airport and federal MPs keep telling people to complain to Airservices, but we now know noise complaints to Airservices go nowhere. There is absolutely nothing to suggest that complaining to Airservices will have any effect,” David Diamond says.
Faced with what they describe as orchestrated negligence, BFPCA has taken matters into their own hands with its own complaints reporting process. Brisbane residents and communities can lodge complaints through a simple dedicated web link: bfpca.org.au/complain
Using this link enables communities to bypass the biased and negligent Airservices complaints process, by emailing their complaints directly to the Minister for Transport Barnaby Joyce, the Shadow Minister for Transport Catherine King, the Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, the Brisbane Lord Mayor Adrian Schrinner, the CEO of Airservices, the CEO of Brisbane Airport Corporation (BAC), the CEO and Chair of QIC – co-owners of BAC, the Brisbane Airport Community Aviation Consultation Group (BACACG), and the Aircraft Noise Ombudsman (ANO).
Download full release of FOI documents: FOI-21-24 and FOI-21-35
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Activities inside controlled airspace
Actions or decisions taken by Airservices
Aviation-related matters outside Airservices remit
Noise Improvement Investigations
Of a total of 207 pages of internal complaint handling procedures and training resources released under FOI, only half a page (180 words) are dedicated to noise improvement investigations. Such investigations appear to be so rare that Airservices deemed no further detail was required.
Brisbane families and communities are suffering from excessive noise pollution and associated health and related impacts from Brisbane Airport’s new flight paths launched in July 2020. Both the Aircraft Noise Ombudsman report and the Brisbane Airport PIR Advisory Forum (BAPAF) have now confirmed that Brisbane communities were misled using flawed noise modelling, deceiving community engagement, and offering inadequate noise abatements.
The Brisbane Flight Path Community Alliance (BFPCA) has come together to fight back on behalf of all Brisbane families and communities experiencing this noise pollution.
For more information about BFPCA visit bfpca.org.au