The agency that designs flight paths is under investigation for the second time in two years for plotting new plane routes over homes without warning residents.
Backlash has erupted at exclusive beachside suburbs in Queensland’s Noosa region after locals were kept in the dark about aircraft earmarked to fly over their houses.
It follows outrage in Hobart, Tasmania, when people didn’t find out about new flight paths until the planes zoomed over.
Noosa residents are now fighting a last-ditch battle to prevent up to 14 flights a day and six in the evening from Sunshine Coast Airport soaring overhead, which they say will affect their coastal lifestyles.
The new incoming and outgoing routes, designed by Airservices Australia, have been directed over seaside mansions along the beach as well as secluded Sunshine Coast hinterland towns.
Locals say their surfside and country lifestyles, where background ambient noise is rolling waves or chirping birds, would be severely affected and property values could plummet.
They have lashed out at authorities for not consulting people who live up to 25 kilometres away from the airport, even though they were directly under the proposed flight paths.
“You won’t mistake it for a bird, or Superman,” said retired commercial pilot and resident Fred Vernon, who is part of a community army that has banded together.
“They should not be flying over pristine areas with a lot of population.”
The Aircraft Noise Ombudsman has confirmed it has launched an investigation into the debacle but would not comment further.
It follows a similar investigation last year when ombudsman Narelle Bell concluded Hobart residents had received no warning about new flight paths nor had Airservices Australia considered the impacts.
Her report said Airservices Australia had “seriously underestimated the potential community reaction to the changes and this contributed to inadequate or flawed community engagement design”.
The agency is under increasing pressure to manage flight paths as Australia’s aviation sector continues to grow.
More than 630,000 domestic flights flew across Australia in the year ending April 2018, while international flights increased 4.6 per cent to 210,355 to December.
Flight path changes are proposed at a number of airports around the country such as Brisbane, the Gold Coast, and Hobart, and including:
- Melbourne Airport: Proposed changes to runways 09 and 16 for arrivals in certain wind conditions
- Adelaide Airport: Changes to some approach procedures for runway 12/30) from September
- Sydney Airport: Flight path change to reduce noise over Cronulla during night curfew.
An Airservices Australia spokesperson said the new Sunshine Coast Airport flight paths were within corridors that had already been approved by the council and state government during the environmental impact assessment phase.
“We are continuing to analyse the feedback on our minor changes to the approved flight paths,” the spokesperson said.
“When designing flight paths, we always consider safety as our highest priority.”
The Sunshine Coast Airport’s new runway expansion project was approved in 2016 and was nearing the final sign off when residents suddenly realised they would be affected.
They discovered up to 14 incoming and outgoing planes would be directed over mansion suburbs such as Castaways Beach and Marcus Beach, where median house prices are $1.25 million and $970,000 respectively.
Up to five flights a day would also go over the hinterland, where residents enjoy bushland living and solitude.
More than 3500 submissions have bombarded authorities as the July 29 deadline looms for Airservices Australia, a government-owned agency that manages air space, to submit its designs to the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) for approval.
Andre Van Zyl, from the Castaways Beach Residents Association, warned that Airservices Australia’s lack of consultation could have a national impact.
“People have the right to question on a national level, are we going to see this over and over again?” he said.
“Every time they change a flight plan, will they follow these procedures?”
Maria Suarez, from the newly formed Flight Path Forum representing locals and community groups, said people had no idea until this year that they would be affected, despite the project being around for years.
“One reason we are up in arms is we feel like we have not been informed,” she said.
“They stuffed up Sydney, they stuffed up Hobart and Perth and we don’t want to add the Sunshine Coast to the list.”
Ms Suarez said residents wanted to see alternative options for flight plans over the Sunshine Coast.
“We want to make sure that any new flight plans are the best outcome,” she said.
“We know that flight paths have to go somewhere but they have presented just one option – why is it the best option? Answer us that.
“It’s an option but we don’t know if it’s the best option.”
Sarah Hansen lives on a rural property at Tinbeerwah, where background noise is so low she can hear frogs croaking in the creek.
She said country and coastal residents wanted a solution that would be of the greatest benefit to the community.
Earlier the issue had threatened to pit bush and beach communities against each other as people on the coastline called for planes to be directed to lower populated areas over the hinterland.
But the two sides are now working together and Ms Hansen said all residents were demanding more information and transparency.
“It’s short-sighted for planes to be flying over the jewels of the coast without knowing due process had been followed,” she said.
“We want to make sure the best option has been selected. At the moment we’re not completely confident that has happened.”