Airspace Protection

Airspace around leased Federal airports is protected under the Airports Act 1996 and the Airports (Protection of Airspace) Regulations 1996. The protection of airspace is essential in order to provide a safe and predictable environment for the arrival and departure of aircraft using an airport.

National and international standards have been adopted which define two sets of invisible surfaces above the ground. These surfaces are: 

  • Obstacle Limitation Surface (OLS) and
  • Procedures for Air Navigation Services – Aircraft Operations (PANS-OPS)

The OLS is generally the lowest surface and is designed to provide protection for aircraft flying into or out of the airport when the pilot is flying by sight. The PANS-OPS surface is generally above the OLS and is designed to safeguard an aircraft from collision with obstacles when the aircraft's flight may be guided solely by instruments, in conditions of poor visibility.

Any activity that infringes an airport's protected airspace is called a “controlled activity” and requires approval before it can be carried out. Controlled activities include the following:

  • long term activities including structures, such as buildings, intruding into the protected airspace
  • short term (no longer than 3 months) activities such as cranes intruding into the protected airspace
  • any activities causing intrusions into the protected airspace through glare from artificial light or reflected sunlight, air turbulence from stacks or vents, smoke, dust, steam or other gases or particulate matter.

The Regulations provide for the airport operator to approve short-term activities intruding the OLS.  The Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development approves long term activities and short-term intrusions of the PANS-OPS surface. Long term intrusions of the PANS-OPS surface are prohibited.

A person who carries out a controlled activity without approval commits an offence under Section 183 of the Airports Act 1996. That section provides for a penalty of 250 penalty units for each offence ($42,500 as at August 2014).

In addition, if a building authority receives a proposal for a building activity that, if undertaken, would constitute a controlled activity; it must give notice of the proposal to the airport operator. Failure to do so is an offence under Section 186 of the Airports Act 1996 (50 penalty units – $8,500 as at August 2014).

 

APPROVAL PROCESS

The approval process varies depending on the type of controlled activity:

  • short-term controlled activities penetrating the OLS can be approved/refused by the airport operator after consultation with CASA and Airservices, or referred by the airport to the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development (the Department) for a decision;
  • a decision on long term and short term controlled activities is required to be made by the Department within 28 days of the Department's receipt of the application.
  • long-term controlled activities penetrating the OLS and short term penetration of the PANS-OPS are referred by the airport to the Department for a decision after consultation with CASA, Airservices and the relevant building authority;
  • a decision on short term controlled activities (OLS) is required to be made within 21 days of the airport operator receiving the application, unless the application is referred to the Department for a decision;
  • long-term controlled activities penetrating the PANS-OPS airspace are not permitted, and the airport operator can notify the refusal of such controlled activities. If the airport operator assesses that the application is long term (more than 3 months duration) and would result in penetration of the PANS-OPS surface, it must be refused.

The Regulations require any decision by the airport operator to be made in the interests of the safety, efficiency or regularity of existing or future air transport operations into or out of the airport.

An approval may be subject to conditions specified by the airport operator. These conditions may concern how the controlled activity is carried out (e.g. hours of operation of a crane), or may require the building or structure to be marked or lit in a certain way. These conditions must also be in the interests of the safety, efficiency or regularity of existing or future air transport operations.

The Regulations set the following timeframes for the approval of controlled activities:

  • If the airport operator, CASA, Airservices or the Department requires further information in respect of individual applications, the decision is to be made within 21 days (for short-term intrusions) or 28 days (for long-term intrusions) of the extra information being provided by the applicant.

FURTHER INFORMATION