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Thursday, 20 March 2008
Page: 2393

Mr ALBANESE (Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government) (10:01 AM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.


Sydney airport is Australia’s major international and domestic airport, and its operational efficiency is critical to Australia’s national economic performance. On average, about 29 million passengers and about 550,000 tonnes of airfreight worth around $33 billion are processed through Sydney airport every year. International visitors entering Australia through Sydney airport inject about $2.6 billion a year to the economy.

The Sydney Airport Demand Management Act 1997 is an important piece of legislation for Sydney airport and ensures it operates effectively while also protecting the interests of the local community. The Sydney Airport Demand Management Act 1997 first saw light as a private member’s bill that I introduced in 1996, and it led to the former government then putting in place the legislation as it is now.

The Sydney Airport Demand Management Amendment Bill 2008 I introduce today seeks to improve the current legislation. The bill will also enable changes to be made to the subordinate legislation to improve the operation of the slots regime and the enforcement of the movement limit at Sydney airport. A key objective of the current act is to put in place a cap on the number of movements on the runway of 80 in a regulated hour.

The act established a regime intended to control the scheduled movement times of airlines so that no more than 80 movements occurred on the runways in any hour.

The act was also designed to encourage efficiency of operation through the allocation of ‘slots’ which stage the scheduling of aircraft movements and avoids the congestion that was occurring when airlines clustered their scheduling times.

The bill I introduce today makes no changes to the objectives or intent of the existing act. The bill makes technical changes to support the improved administration of the cap and slot management scheme.

Since the inception of the demand management scheme at the airport, there have been almost three million aircraft movements over approximately 260,000 regulated hours.

ANAO report

Over 2006, the Australian National Audit Office conducted a performance audit of the demand management system established under the existing legislation. The ANAO report was finalised on 7 March 2007 and it found that, since the inception of the slot management system, there have been 61 occasions when the maximum movement limit was exceeded. Aircraft movement reports tabled in parliament show that the last incidence was at the end of 2001 but increases in traffic are likely to lead to more pressure on the limit.

Airservices Australia has advised they have put in place procedures to strengthen the collection and reporting of data on the movement limit.

The ANAO report highlighted the complex nature of aircraft operations at a busy airport like Sydney. In this context, consideration must be given to:

  • the need for flexibility in order to maintain certainty for airline schedules,
  • the importance of maximising the efficiency of the airport,
  • the need to avoid unnecessary disruption of scheduled services for passengers, and
  • the importance of achieving this while implementing arrangements to minimise the impact of aircraft noise on the community around the airport.

Key policy objectives

The overriding objectives of the existing act remain the same. Those objectives are:

  • Firstly, to minimise the impact of aircraft noise on the community by enforcing a limit of 80 aircraft movements per hour. This was first proposed in a private members bill titled ‘Sydney Airport (Regulation of Movements) Bill 1996’ which I moved on 18 November 1996.
  • Secondly, to provide for the orderly and efficient operation of flights into and out of Sydney airport through a slot management regime that keeps Sydney in step with international scheduling practice. The cap at 80 movements within any regulated hour, as I have mentioned, remains in place.
  • And the third objective of the current act is to guarantee access for operators of New South Wales regional services by establishing a ring fence around the slots held by regional operators to Sydney airport at the onset of the demand management regime.

Slots previously held by Ansett Airlines at the time of its demise have also been quarantined. This will ensure equitable access to Sydney slots for airlines entering the Sydney services market for the first time. These protections will remain in place and are not affected by the provisions in this bill.

Overall, these policy objectives are being met and the bill does not change any of the fundamental policy settings designed to protect the local community in Sydney and regional communities that depend on access to Sydney airport.

The amendments are essentially technical and will clarify, strengthen and tighten the regulatory arrangements.

The slot management scheme currently in place in Sydney provides a framework for the equitable allocation of planned aircraft movements within a regulated hour.

Importantly, the slot management scheme also provides a compliance framework for encouraging airlines to operate in accordance with their published schedules.

Congestion problems have been reduced with the introduction of slot management. The slot system facilitates a more even distribution of aircraft movements within hours.

Although of course there will continue to be morning and evening peak periods in response to:

  • the operational requirements of airlines,
  • curfew restrictions at Sydney and at overseas airports and, of course,
  • the travelling preferences of passengers, particularly regional and business travellers.

Passenger numbers at Sydney airport are forecast to grow 4.2 per cent annually to 68.3 million passengers in 2023-24. While a significant share of the growth will be attributed to larger aircraft carrying more passengers, aircraft movements are still expected to increase by 2.4 per cent to 377,650 movements per annum over the same period.

As the pressure builds around the availability of airport slots at peak periods, it has never been more important to clarify and strengthen the regulatory framework for managing this growth.

Given the current economic climate and the growth in global aviation activity, it is critical we manage the pressure on an inner city airport. And it is important we do that without losing sight of the key role a critical piece of national infrastructure such as Sydney airport plays in the Australian economy.

The key change proposed by the bill is to introduce a distinction between aircraft movements on the runway and aircraft movements at the gate. The distinction is significant because the slot management scheme is based on gate movements and the movement limit applies to runway movements.

The amendments proposed by this bill will overcome the flaw identified in the Australian National Audit Office audit that the day-to-day administration of slot allocation and compliance did not technically comply with the current act. More particularly, the term ‘aircraft movement’ was interchangeably used to describe the two separate but related actions.

The slot allocation regime is a vital planning tool that enables flight schedules at the airport to be managed so as to satisfy a wide range of operational demands reflecting the global nature of airline businesses.

Essentially, the bulk of slots are allocated prior to the commencement of each summer and winter scheduling season in conjunction with airports worldwide.

The slot manager allocates slots to airlines having regard to

  • the capacity of the airport to handle particular flights,
  • the size of the aircraft,
  • the capacity of the terminal to process passengers and baggage,
  • whether there is a gate and apron available and, overall, whether the slot can be accommodated within the 80 movements per hour cap.

Consistent with the practice at other slot-controlled airports overseas, slots have been granted for the time a plane is scheduled to arrive at or leave the gate. The airline’s compliance for the purposes of the current act has, in practice, been measured against meeting those gate times. However, in strict terms of the current act, compliance should have been measured by reference to the time of aircraft movements on the runway.

The legislation as it stands does not recognise the difference between the need to measure movements on and off the runway for the movement cap and movements on and off the gate for the slot management system. Slots have been, and need to continue to be allocated against scheduled airline movements which align with movements at the gate and not on the runway.

For each gate movement, there will be a corresponding aircraft movement on the runway—either before the gate movement, for arrivals, or after the gate movement, for departures. The bill will formalise a requirement for the slot manager to have regard to the likely aircraft movement times on the runway when allocating slots, and to ensure the allocation of the slots is consistent with the movement cap.

Curfew arrangements at Sydney airport will remain unchanged.

However, this bill clarifies the relationship between slot allocation and compliance and movements during the curfew period. The ANAO report found that flights delayed into the curfew period were incorrectly assessed for compliance under the act. The proposed amendments in the bill will ensure any movement that is delayed into the curfew period is not exempt from the compliance scheme under the Sydney Demand Management Act 1997. Any penalties under the Sydney Airport Curfew Act 1995 would also apply.

The bill will also allow for the minister to vary the operation of the compliance scheme during exceptional circumstances. The collapse of Ansett and the aftermath of the tragic events on 11 September 2001 are illustrative examples of such exceptional circumstances.

The exercise of the power to modify the operation of the scheme will be subject to the registration, tabling and sunset requirements of the Legislative Instruments Act 2003.

The bill also makes a number of minor technical and other administrative amendments to clarify and strengthen the slot management arrangements. With the passage of this bill, changes will flow through to its associated regulations and the slot management and compliance schemes. My department is currently in the process of developing these regulations.

Changes which will further strengthen and clarify the operation of the scheme include:

  • introduction of a regulation requiring the slot manager to provide improved reports and information so as to be accountable for slot allocation and gate movements
  • introduction of a regulation that will enable the slot manager to require operators to provide information and impose penalties for failure to comply
  • implementation of a new infringement notice regime for ‘no-slot’ movements, and
  • increased penalties under the infringement notice regime applicable to both ‘no-slot’ and ‘off-slot’ gate movements

Since the Rudd government came to office we have sought to protect the local community around Sydney airport while allowing for growth in aviation. In particular, we have:

  • Reconstituted and reinvigorated the Sydney Airport Community Forum, making the membership more representative of those communities affected by aircraft noise;
  • Ensured Sydney airport consults the local community on important runway safety works through a major development plan process;
  • Maintained a firm line on the operation of the curfew at Sydney airport;
  • Reaffirmed our commitment to the full implementation of the Long Term Operating Plan for Sydney airport;
  • Reaffirmed the 80 movement cap at Sydney airport will remain in place; and
  • Reaffirmed our commitment to ensure access by New South Wales regional operators to Sydney airport.

The bill I have introduced today is another important reform ensuring the efficient operation of Sydney airport while at the same time protecting the interests of the local community.

I commend the bill to the House.

Debate (on motion by Mr Truss) adjourned.