Another failed consultation

The story of Airservices Australia’s so-called community consultation on Hobart flight path changes would be farcical if the impact wasn’t so serious for affected communities.

First, major changes which seriously affected newly overflown communities in South East Tasmania were rushed in without any consultation, or even notification, in September 2017. A Federal Court action revealed that this was not to improve safety as claimed, but to meet a construction deadline at Hobart airport.

Following a spike in noise complaints, and an investigation by the Aircraft Noise Ombudsman (ANO), Airservices was forced to act.

However, rather than wind back the changes, Airservices rushed through a ‘consultation’ two months later which offered only one workable option - moving a single flight path by a few kilometres, which for most affected residents, made no appreciable difference.

Then a 12 month review was instituted, in which Airservices promised that community stakeholders would be involved from the outset. It was not until July 2018 that Airservices got around to talking to the community, conmmissioning Canberra firm Tania Parkes Consulting to conduct ‘social impact’ sessions with community stakeholders affected by the new paths.

For reasons which are still unclear, participants were only permitted to talk about the ‘impact’ of the September 2017 and March 2018 changes, and were specifically excluded by the consultant from expressing preferences about future paths. Yet, when the error-strewn consultant’s report was published, it concluded that ‘most of the community’ wanted paths to fly ‘over water down the East Coast or up the Derwent’. We have obtained audio recordings of all these sessions - and flying over water, the East Coast or the Derwent were never mentioned. Not surprising - given that water amplifies noise and most community stakeholders live and/or work on the coast.

When Airservices released its new design in November 2018, the only signficant changes were flight paths ‘over water’ - Schouten Island, Maria Island, Marion Bay and Dunalley - the same option that was presented and rejected by community stakeholders exactly a year before in November 2017. It would appear that Airservices wants flight paths over water down the East Coast - but, on the evidence, it isn’t ‘most of the community’.

The most recent ‘consultation’ sessions with community stakeholders, again convened by Tania Parkes Consulting, again did not present options, did not allow the participants to work with designers to explore alternatives, provided participants with little confidence that this was any more than a box ticking exercise. The design appears to be a done deal, with about half of each session devoted to justifying why it is the best solution, no whiteboard for working through suggestions, no collaborative engagement with participants - just a small window allowed for verbal ‘feedback’ noted down by consultants with no local knowledge or aviation experience. At best this was an information session telling the community what has already been decided, not consultation.

As the ANO’s report said:

It is surprising that, having acknowledged the “inadequacy” of its consultation with affected residents, Airservices appears to continue in that vein, making no attempt to recover goodwill or gain the community’s confidence. The message appears not to have been received ….

This failure, again, after all that has happened since September 2017 to alert Airservices to its shortcomings in community consultation, confirms our view that the importance of community engagement and consultation and its skilful execution are not currently understood by Airservices.


We need to make Airservices understand that genuine consultation is the provision of an opportunity to influence a decision - i.e. through a genuinely collaborative design process between Airservices and community stakeholders, not a lecture.

Please write to Airservices by 7 January 2019 asking them to work with communities to find the best outcome for all stakeholders via the following link: