PROCESS FAILURES

The evidence suggests that Airservices has not complied with either its own policies or relevant legislation in its decision about the Hobart flight paths.

1 Airservices has not properly determined the likely social impact of its actions

Airservices Australia is required to comply with the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 to assess whether its actions are likely to have ‘significant environmental impact’. This includes potential damage to communities through noise and visual impact.

The process used by Airservices to assess impact was severely criticised by the Aircraft Noise Ombudsman in her report on the initial Hobart implementation because:

  • it uses absolute rather than relative values for noise thresholds

  • background noise levels are not considered (e.g. the same test is used for a quiet country area as is used for a busy city or suburb)

  • the ‘more than ten 60dB noise events per day’ threshold is not a suitable trigger for significant impact

The ANO also criticised how the self-assessment process was (mis)used by Airservices, suggesting that if a design flags a need to refer it is simply shifted until the flag no longer applies:

“when the proposed design triggers a need for referral and formal assessment under the EPBC Act … it seems the aim of changing the design is to avoid a need to refer, rather than to deliberately seek the best achievable environmental outcomes”.

The ANO also raises questions about whether Airservices’s self-assessment process assures that its flight path decisions are compliant with the EPBC.

Despite this, Airservices has used the same non-compliant environmental assessment process for its latest proposed paths, by deferring implementation of a new process until June 2019.

What is required: Airservices must assess its new Hobart flight paths in accordance with the ANO’s recommendations to ensure compliance with the EPBC Act.


2 Airservices has not properly consulted with stakeholders, including communities

Section 10 of the Airservices Act 1995 says that it:

"must, where appropriate, consult with government, commercial, industrial, consumer and other relevant bodies and organisations"

In his Statement of Expectations for the Board of Airservices, the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport said:

"I expect that in performing its functions Airservices will ... undertake effective and ongoing engagement with the community, industry and Government on the development and implementation of significant changes by Airservices to air traffic"

Airservices Australia's own Communication and Consultation Protocol says:

"Airservices is committed to open and timely communication and consultation. We engage with the community in relation to a range of issues [including] flight path changes, particularly if residents are newly overflown"

In her Hobart investigation report, the Aircraft Noise Ombudsman was strongly critical of Airservices’s commitment to consulting with community stakeholders. For example, she found that there had been no consultation with communities about the initial Hobart flight path implementation.

For its review of the Hobart flight paths, Airservices appointed a Canberra-based community consultant with no apparent experience in aircraft noise impact to undertake a social impact study.