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Airspace Restrictions in Australia: The Ultimate Guide

When starting your next construction project, it’s important to be aware of the airspace restrictions and regulations in Australia.  If your building or the cranes need are going to penetrate protected airspace, important considerations must be taken into account early in the project prior to DA submission.

Buildings penetrate the air – there’s no doubt about it. But sometimes, those buildings will penetrate airspace that is protected to ensure the safety, efficiency and regularity of aircraft operations and this is where you must exercise caution.

If your building or the cranes need during construction are going to penetrate protected airspace, important considerations must be taken into account early in the project prior to DA submission.

The important task for you as a project manager or a property developer for a construction project will be to ensure that your building is compliant with the relevant federal airspace restrictions in Australia.

The fundamental type of airspace restriction you must be aware of is “protected airspace” (also known as prescribed airspace).

What is protected airspace?

Protected airspace is airspace which is protected by federal airspace law to ensure that buildings and construction works do not pose an unacceptable risk to air safety.

International standards have been developed by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) which prescribes two separate and identifiable types of airspace. These include:

These include:

• the Obstacle Limitation Surfaces (OLS); and

• the Procedures for Air Navigational Services—Aircraft Operations (PANS-OPS) surfaces.

Each different type of airspace is critical to understand for property developers when embarking on a project, especially when those projects are near an airport.

We’ve put together a list of 5 things you need to know if, in particular, you are constructing near Sydney Airport. You can read this in our other post on the subject.

What is the OLS?

The OLS refers to what is typically the lowest airspace protection surface above an airport.

They are imaginary surfaces designed to provide protection for aircraft, their pilots and passengers flying into or out of an airport when the pilot is flying under what is termed Visual Flight Rules (VFR) i.e. separation from obstacles is determined by visual reference outside the aircraft.

Structures that penetrate through the OLS become ‘obstacles’ and can be man-made structures such as buildings and cranes but also terrain.

airspace restrictions in australia

What is the PANS-OPS?

The PANS-OPS surfaces are generally above the OLS.

The surfaces exist to protect aircraft from collision with obstacles when flights are operating under Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) whereby the pilot is relying on his/her instruments in the cockpit to manage obstacle clearance as opposed to visual reference through sight.

This occurs for a variety of reasons including when visibility is poor and when there is a low cloud base.

airspace restrictions in australia ultimate guide obstacle limitation surface

What if my construction project infringes protected airspace?

If your activity infringes on protected airspace, it will need to be assessed by a range of aviation stakeholders and be approved as a ‘controlled activity’ before it is carried out. Penalties apply for anyone who proceeds with penetrations of protected airspace without approval.

With respect to temporary penetrations (i.e. cranes), if the activity is not expected to last longer than 3 months and only penetrates the OLS, the airport can approve your application. If, however, the penetration of the OLS is expected to be more than 3 months or if it penetrates the PANS-OPS surface for any period of time, the airport will need to refer the activity to other aviation stakeholders for assessment. These can include airlines operating at the airport, helicopter operators, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority and Airservices Australia.

Once all these respective parties have assessed the application, this package is presented to the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications (Department) who will either reject the proposal or issue an approval for it to proceed.

The final approving authority for all short-term penetrations (i.e. up to three months) of the PANS-OPS and long-term penetrations (i.e. more than three months) of the OLS is the Department as specified in the Airspace (Protection of Airspace) Regulations 1996.

In making its determination, the Department is required to assess the respective assessments of the airport operator, Airservices and CASA. The Department cannot approve short-term penetrations of the PANS-OPS without the support of the airport operator and also cannot approve long-term penetrations of the OLS in the event CASA’s assessment is not supportive of the application.

When considering maximum building heights and construction methodologies, it is important to note that long term intrusions of the PANS-OPS surfaces (e.g. cranes penetrating for longer than three months) are prohibited under the applicable regulations.

Don’t risk infringing airspace regulations – get professional advice

A comprehensive airspace assessment can be complicated. Getting it wrong can lead to an entire project being delayed and possibly even cancelled.

As you can see above, a thorough assessment of the airspace restrictions in Australia requires the application of some technical terminology, so it’s certainly worth commissioning a professional aeronautical impact assessment to ensure your development complies with all relevant aviation laws.

Avlaw Aviation Consulting have highly qualified and experienced aviation consultants that can assist with ensuring your development runs smoothly and is compliant with the relevant aviation laws and regulations.

For further information, please download our top 10 FAQs from property developers on this very topic. Don’t hesitate to contact if you have any questions on Australian airspace restrictions.