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Monday, 13 October 2008
Page: 8803


Mr ALBANESE (Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government) (3:23 PM) —by leave—On 27 November 2007, just three days after the federal election on 24 November, Sydney Airport announced that work on the runway end safety area on the western end of the east-west runway would result in the complete closure of the runway for a period of no less than 15 months and a consequential end to noise-sharing arrangements during that period. The previous government was advised of this proposal in September 2007, but the public were not informed.

Upon my appointment as Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government, I announced that the proposal, which had been discussed with the former government, was unacceptable and that every measure would have to be taken to ensure there was minimum disruption to noise-sharing arrangements at Sydney Airport as a result of these works.

I asked Sydney Airport to work with Airservices Australia, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority and my department to ensure that no stone was left unturned in identifying possible solutions that would achieve a safe, efficient and timely completion of the works. I also ensured that the community would be formally consulted and would have input to the runway safety project.

On 15 August this year, I approved the major development plan for a runway end safety area at the western end of Sydney Airport’s east-west runway with 22 stringent conditions to minimise the impact of these essential works on nearby communities. Preliminary work on the runway end safety area (RESA) has commenced, and the major work on the project will commence this week.

The RESA has to be built to comply with International Civil Aviation Organisation safety standards which were adopted in May 2003 by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) for international airports in Australia. RESAs are cleared ground areas located at each end of a runway at international airports. RESAs are intended to minimise the harm to passengers in the unlikely event that an aircraft overruns or lands short of a runway. The Australian government is interested in all measures that will enhance the level of aviation safety and the safety of the Australian travelling public.

RESAs are an important part of aviation safety, and my approval for the construction of the safety area at the western end of the Sydney east-west runway is critical to ensure Sydney Airport maintains international safety standards. The RESA will provide a 90-metre by 90-metre paved area at the western end of east-west runway, and it is estimated that it will cost Sydney Airport approximately $85 million to build.

Located at the western end of the east-west runway—where the enlarged runway safety area will be built—are Sydney’s largest sewer, the M5 East Motorway and the Cooks River. As a result, building Sydney Airport’s sixth and final runway safety area will be complex.

For the first eight-month phase of the project—mid-October 2008 to mid-June 2009—construction work will require the presence of a giant pit at the end of the runway, the use of 35-metre-high cranes and building materials that must stay in place for extended periods of time while concrete dries. Such obstacles at the western end of the runway pose a serious risk to aircraft and passengers. Operations on the east-west runway will therefore be limited to take-offs to the east.

Construction will involve the installation of more than one hundred 27-metre-long precast concrete structural beams, each weighing more than 25 tonnes. Construction work will be carried out seven days a week and the project will also generate around 770 construction jobs. There will also be extensive night works including excavation and filling works, removal of substantial volumes of excavated material, pavement construction work, construction of a stormwater detention basin, installation of new services and construction work relating to the retaining wall.

When completed, the RESA has to be able carry a fully laden Airbus A380 and rescue vehicles. That is, the safety area has to be built over a sewer, next to a river and adjacent to the M5 East and be able carry well over 600 tonnes, which is 12 times the weight bearing of a normal road.

The Australian government has consistently emphasised to Sydney Airport the priority it attaches to safety in this runway extension project and, upon advice from the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA), I am satisfied that the project meets the current aviation safety standards. Decisions about safety standards at Australia’s airports are made by CASA. CASA advises that the length of the RESA under construction at Sydney Airport is the same as every other safety area for runways at international airports in Australia. Sydney Airport has completed safety areas at five of its six runway ends, and the western end of its east-west runway is the last runway end to be upgraded with a RESA. During the construction of the RESA some operational restrictions will be required at the airport, which in addition to construction noise will have an impact on communities near the airport.

I have left no stone unturned to minimise the impact of this essential safety work on these communities. As a result of the conditions on the development, the east-west runway will now remain open during construction of the RESA. Sydney Airport will install a ‘jet blast barrier’ across the east-west runway to protect the worksite at the western end, thereby allowing the eastern end to be used for take-offs.

Weather and traffic permitting, aircraft up to the size of a Boeing 737, the most common jet aircraft in Australian skies, will be able to depart in an easterly direction from the east-west runway. This will apply from later this week, when construction starts on the western end, until May 2009 when the substantial part of drilling large piers into the ground will be completed.

At the insistence of the Australian government, Sydney Airport Corporation has reduced the critical construction period from 15 months to eight months with a total construction period of approximately 19 months. In approving the RESA, I have placed 22 stringent conditions on the Sydney Airport Corporation, and I table those conditions.

The conditions ensure that:

  • aircraft will be able to depart off the eastern end of the east-west runway throughout the construction period;
  • Sydney Airport will be required to install a ‘jet blaster barrier’ across the east-west runway to protect the worksite at the western end, thereby allowing the eastern end to be used for take-offs;
  • full use of the east-west runway will be available at critical times after only eight months, not the 15 months originally proposed;
  • the ongoing monitoring of construction noise and a community complaints phone line and email address for the project to be administered by the airport, in addition to existing aircraft noise complaints line administered by Airservices Australia;
  • monthly reporting to the Sydney Airport Community Forum on the project; and
  • regular reviews of the project to see if it can be safely hastened or community impacts further reduced.

Airservices Australia has also, at my request, introduced a number of measures to minimise the impact on the community during the period of these works. In particular, a noise-sharing Mode 15 will be introduced to allow aircraft to be directed off the shorter parallel runway to the east and north-east, providing relief to the residents to the north and north-west. Keeping the eastern end of the east-west runway open for take-offs will ensure residents to the north, north-west and south of the airport will no longer bear the full burden of aircraft noise during construction of the safety area.

The government explored every possible way to minimise the noise impact on surrounding communities while this essential safety work is being carried out. The residents of Sydney will still be affected by the temporary changes in aircraft noise from this project, but the safety works are absolutely essential and we have lessened the noise impact as much as possible.

I have strengthened the community’s ability to monitor and report on the impact and progress of the construction. The Sydney Airport long-term operating plan Implementation Monitoring Committee, or IMC, will meet monthly and I will be provided a report through the Chief Executive Officer of Airservices Australia.

I have asked Airservices Australia to further investigate with the aviation industry, airlines and CASA possible changes to the crosswind and downwind thresholds at Sydney, but to ensure that any change categorically does not impact a mode called SODPROPS which maximises aircraft movements over Botany Bay and away from residents, and is the mode which provides respite to the majority of the community. All Sydney Airport’s three runways will remain open while essential safety upgrades are made to the western end of its east-west runway—work which will ensure the runway meets international safety standards.

In January 2008 the government reinstated the Sydney Airport Community Forum (SACF). Sydney Airport will continuously engage and consult with the community, Airservices Australia and my department throughout the RESA project. SACF was engaged with the process in the lead-up to the major development plan approval. This included a full briefing of SACF on 15 August prior to my announcement, and a briefing two days earlier of the Implementation and Monitoring Committee of SACF. I thank the members of the Sydney Airport Community Forum, from across the political spectrum, who gave support to the process and made constructive representations throughout this process which has helped the government’s consideration of the runway end safety area project.

I seek leave to move a motion to enable the member for Wide Bay to speak for 11 minutes.

Leave granted.


Mr ALBANESE —I move:

That so much of the standing and sessional orders be suspended as would prevent Mr Truss speaking for a period not exceeding 11 minutes.

Question agreed to.