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Sydney Airport Operational Efficiency Limited by Curfew and Movement Cap

The Productivity Commission has found that regulatory controls result in more noise, emissions and impact on the broader operational efficiency of the airport.

In its draft report, the Productivity Commission argues that while on the whole Sydney Airport operational efficiency is strong, the current regulatory system to minimise noise and traffic is “unnecessarily restrictive” and “generates costs to airlines, passengers, and freight customers”.

Sydney Airport Operational Efficiency: The regulatory landscape

Aircraft operations at Sydney Airport are regulated by two major constraints – a movement cap and a curfew.

The movement cap limits the number of aircraft that can take off or land at Sydney Airport, and is specified under the Sydney Airport Demand Management Act 1997. During non-curfew periods, the movement cap is set at 80 aircraft movements per hour, measured every 15 minutes.

The curfew at Sydney Airport is governed by the aptly named Sydney Airport Curfew Act 1995 (‘the Act’) and regulations. The curfew applies between 11pm and 6am. An aircraft is not allowed to take off or land at the Airport unless otherwise permitted under the Act. Limited aircraft movements are allowed for certain freight services, emergency service aircraft, and jets and small aircraft with a Max. Take off-Weight (MTOW) of 34,000kgs.

On average, there are 12 aircraft movements at night during curfew hours.

Findings of the Commission

The Commission found “that the movement cap and curfew sometimes resulted in more noise and emissions, in spite of their noise management objective”. For example, if the aircraft arrived earlier than expected because of favourable weather conditions it may be forced to wait in the air rather than land to avoid a breach of the movement cap or curfew. This results in additional noise, extra environmental emissions and fuel wastage.

Furthermore, the Commission found that the movement cap, combined with the airport curfew, increased delays during unexpected incidents, such as adverse weather events. Delays during peak periods can force some aircraft to wait on the ground or the air until the next 15-minute rolling hour before being allowed to take off or land to avoid breaching the cap. However, if the delay stretches towards the curfew period, aircraft movement may be restricted entirely. These constraints can ultimately impact the airport’s ability to catch up from delays – leading to affected schedules and additional costs for airlines and passengers.

The movement cap and curfew were also found to reduce the slots available for airlines to operate their flights to and from Sydney, leading to extended use of airport infrastructure and less efficient use of aircraft.

Options for improving Sydney Airport operational efficiency

The draft report provided several suggestions to address operational issues such as:

  • Increasing the flexibility of the movement cap by spreading the measurement over a longer timeframe (such as 3 or 4 hours) rather than the current 15-minute rolling hour measure. Alternatively, applying the cap to scheduled movements and not actual movements can relieve the pressure from delays in take-off or landing.
  • Replacing the movement cap and curfew with a noise quota
  • Allowing a wider range of newer, quieter aircraft to operate during curfew hours

The Commission will make recommendations in its final report, which will be handed to the Government in June.

Avlaw Aviation Consulting welcomes the findings made by the Productivity Commission.