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Airports and Property Developers: Managing Airspace Safely While Facilitating Urban Growth

Avlaw Aviation Consulting Managing Director Amin Hamzavian discusses how Australia’s airports and property developers can keep the airspace safe while ensuring metropolitan growth.

A combination of extensive rezoning that has led to a relaxation of building height controls by local councils coupled with significant infrastructure investment across Australia’s major capital cities to facilitate. The reason is a combination of extensive rezoning leading to the relaxation of building height controls by local councils, coupled with significant infrastructure investment across Australia’s major capital cities.

This has facilitated rising urban density, but raises the question: How high is too high in the context of buildings, cranes and their impact on aircraft safety and airport efficiency?

Assessing proposed buildings and crane activity

When determining whether a proposed building or crane (i.e. obstacles) receives support from aviation stakeholders, the decision does not hinge solely on a trade-off between ensuring safety of air travel and the commercial interest of a property developer.

It is true that protection of airspace surrounding major airports is a critical component of maintaining safety standards. In doing so however, other impacts such as the efficient use of runways and those associated with the impacts on other critical infrastructure (e.g. taxiways, navigation aids etc.), the environment and the community are also considered as part of a comprehensive assessment process. The onus is on the Proponent (i.e. the developer) to supplement their applications for such approvals with an aeronautical impact assessment.

However, another factor that is discussed less often is sustainability, a key driver of decision making which the aviation and construction industries do in fact share in common but which manifests in completely different ways.

International standards that dictate obstacle-free volumes of airspace ensure the safety, efficiency and regularity of existing and future operations. These international standards have been adopted in Australia and the two sets of invisible surfaces above the ground around an airport of most significance are the:

• Obstacle Limitation Surfaces (OLS): surfaces associated with a runway, which identify the lower limits of the aerodrome airspace above which objects become obstacles to aircraft operations. The OLS is generally the lower surface and is designed to provide protection for aircraft flying into or out of the airport when the pilot is flying by visual reference; and

• Procedures for Air Navigation Services—Aircraft Operations (PANS-OPS) surface: The PANS-OPS surface is either coincidental or above the OLS and is designed to safeguard an aircraft from collision with obstacles when the pilot is flying on instruments in conditions of poor visibility or low cloud base.

Safeguarding for the future

Implementing sustainable processes and frameworks to help safeguard for the future become imperative, although penetrations of prescribed airspace, referred to as “controlled activities” in the relevant legislation and regulations (Airport Act 1996 and Airports (Protection of Airspace) Regulations), are allowed in certain circumstances. This can occur in instances where a proponent supplements their application with an an aeronautical impact assessment that documents the basis for ensuring equivalent safety is preserved even if the proposed activity is allowed to continue i.e. neither safety, efficiency or regularity of operations are compromised by the erection of the proposed structure.

On the other side of the equation, all tiers of government as well as stakeholders to the construction industry must acknowledge that the safety of flight will not be traded off to facilitate taller buildings in areas of operational and strategic importance to airport operations. Neither the importance of the airport or the need for further urban regeneration is going to subside, so a pragmatic and holistic approach is needed to ensure the interests of the aviation and construction industries can be achieved harmoniously in the long-term.

Avlaw Aviation Consulting have highly qualified experts that have prepared aeronautical impact assessments, facilitating the construction of some of Australia’s tallest buildings.

Amin Hamzavian is the Managing Director of Avlaw Aviation Consulting and is an expert in aviation management, obstacle assessment and aviation safety.