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Estimates: Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee: Infrastructure and Regional Development Portfolio: Office of Transport Security

Estimates & Committees
Lee Rhiannon 26 May 2017

Tuesday 23 May

Senator RHIANNON: I want to ask about noise insulation with regard to Western Sydney Airport. What are your plans for noise insulating buildings, because this airport will be a 24/7 operation, if it goes ahead?

Mr Mrdak: I am happy to start. It was addressed in the environmental impact statement. Decisions are yet to be taken in relation to any noise mitigation. As you know, there have been two locations in Australia where there have been publicly-funded noise insulation programs—Sydney and Adelaide. In both those situations, it related to houses being insulated that were above what is called the 30 ANEF, and public buildings above the 20 to 25 ANEF. To my knowledge, there are no residences or public buildings falling within those contours for the Badgerys Creek site.

Senator RHIANNON: Just to clarify, are you saying that there are no residential houses within that zone?

Mr Mrdak: Within that boundary, is my understanding. Essentially, to apply the boundaries that were applied to Sydney, in the suburbs surrounding Sydney Kingsford Smith and also Adelaide, there are none, to the best of our knowledge, and I will take on notice if there is any change to that. This was addressed in the EIS that there would be no homes or public buildings which would fall within the contours of eligibility for the programs as per funding for those two other cities.

Senator RHIANNON: Hasn't that been revised, considering this is a 24/7 operation, and these people would be exposed to constant noise?

Mr Mrdak: The Australian Noise Exposure Concept—and what will become the Australian Noise Exposure Forecasts, the ANEF—take into account hours of day operation, and also the frequency operation hours of the day. In the way the noise modelling works—and this is a globally accepted model, that develops the contours—it has a weighting for night operations which is factored into the development of the contours.

Mr McRandle: Just to be clear, the EIS that was conducted and finalised last year was done on the basis of 24- hour operations. So the noise modelling that shows the ANEFs developed from that work was for the 24-hour airport, and there were no identified residences or public buildings that would fall within the zones that the secretary had mentioned.

Senator RHIANNON: To move on, I was referring here to, and you probably understand what it stands for, the ICAO—yes, the International Civil Aviation Organization. This is to do with off-airport hazards and wildlife hazards. I noted that they have two categories here: area A, being three kilometres from the ARP, the aerodrome reference point; and area B, being eight kilometres. Is that something you have looked at, because I noted that there is a national park and a conservation area that are within those areas? I am talking about bird strike, bat strike.

Mr McRandle: The EIS looked at wildlife issues as part of that work that was done and completed last year. The work was consistent with the ICAO standards and procedures. The EIS dealt with those aspects fully. I do not know if Dr Taylor has anything further to add.

Mr Taylor: There was a bird- and bat-strike review done as part of the finalised EIS. That review had a look at the seasonal variation of both birds and bats within the recorded zones that you are talking about, Senator. It found that there were transitory overflights of birds but nothing that would be insurmountable for aircraft overflight.

Senator RHIANNON: Are you saying that you are acknowledging that the Blue Mountains National Park and Burragorang State Conservation Area are within area A or area B as set out by ICAO standards?

Mr Taylor: Yes. According to the standards, the bird and bat strike review was conducted. We will conduct a further bird and bat strike review prior to commencing operations at the airport about nine years from now. We are aware that the nearest national park area is around 7.1 kilometres away and within that zone that you mentioned.

Senator RHIANNON: You use the term 'transitory birds'. We are talking about birds flying over, and there have been some shocking accidents with birds being sucked into planes. These are pretty clear guidelines, so isn't this a major issue?

Mr Taylor: It is a very large issue for aircraft overflight—exactly. That is why we did a comprehensive bird and bat strike review, and we will conduct another one before operations commence.

Senator RHIANNON: So you will conduct another one. Does that mean that you would then be recommending that we remove these national parks or live with the fact that birds will be flying over? That is what happens with birds and bats, even if you try to move bat colonies. We have had some disastrous examples you are probably aware of in Sydney when they have attempted to move bat colonies and they either come back or just move somewhere not too far away.

Mr Taylor: The results of the risk analysis and the bird and bat strike review were that there were no insurmountable issues that could not be overcome, and bats did not feature significantly in that review. As far as bird strikes are concerned, there was no significant risk that could not be overcome.

Senator RHIANNON: Let's go through it. Bats did not figure in the review. Do you mean that you did not—

Mr Taylor: No, the review was done for both bird and bat, and bat strike was not a significant risk.

Senator RHIANNON: Bat strike was not a significant risk?

Mr Taylor: Correct.

Senator RHIANNON: Or you are not finding bat colonies in the area?

Mr Taylor: Bat strike was not a significant risk.

Senator RHIANNON: Why wasn't it a significant risk if you have bat colonies in the area?

Mr Taylor: The review was done according to the professional standard for bird and bat strike review, and it came back as a low risk.

Senator RHIANNON: When you say 'professional standard', what do you mean?

Mr Taylor: The standard that needs to be complied with for bird and bat strike review. It was conducted over the seasonal variation between birds and bats. The size of the colonies in that local area, including the three kilometre zone and the eight-kilometre zone that you referred to, the types of colonies, the size of the birds and the bats themselves, whether they are transitory in nature and whether they are seasonal are all factored into the risk of the review.

Senator RHIANNON: When you say 'transitory in nature', the nature of birds and bats is that they move according to their food sources et cetera. That is how it is.

Mr Taylor: And the risk came back as low for this site.

Senator RHIANNON: You are referring to the EIS, then?

Mr Taylor: Absolutely, yes.

Senator RHIANNON: So, even though the ICAO here says no to bird sanctuaries and game reserves in area A and area B, the EIS says that it is okay?

Mr Taylor: The EIS says it is okay. There is no insurmountable risk of bird and bat strike for the Western Sydney Airport site.

Mr Mrdak: The ICAO guidance provides just that—guidance and recommending materials. But obviously most airports in the world are located where there often are migratory or transitory bird populations. There are attractions to birds in certain locations, particularly those such as Sydney Airport, for instance, where you have water and ponds nearby. They have to be mitigated and managed, which is what happens at most airports around the world.

Senator RHIANNON: Yes, but, with all due respect, the big pond near Sydney Airport has got nets over it, so the birds cannot even land in that pond, and then Botany Bay is a huge area, but Blue Mountains National Park is obviously a unique area for probably thousands of species. At any rate, I will go to my next question.

Mr Mrdak: I think Mr Taylor's point is quite critical—that the risk is very low, and the management strategies that would be adopted in the near proximity of the airport can manage in those near proximity areas.

Senator RHIANNON: You say that it is very low, but nothing has been said except that it has been declared to be very low, whereas the ICAO, obviously with good reason, has recommended some very clear guidelines on how close airports should be to these habitats. So what has the EIS based it on, apart from the fact that they are under pressure to come up with an EIS that suits everybody, that they say it is okay?

 Mr Mrdak: ICAO provides guidance material.

Senator RHIANNON: Yes.

Mr Mrdak: There are few locations in the world where you have an ideal situation of an ideal location. Everywhere in the world, we manage environmental issues, and hazards and risks such as bird strike, in accordance with the management techniques and the technology that are available.

Senator RHIANNON: Mr Taylor, you said that there will be a further study undertaken just prior to Western Sydney Airport opening for operation?

Mr Taylor: It will be prior to operations commencing; that is correct. I would not say 'just prior to'; we do not know the exact timing of that, but it was a recommendation that we have accepted, that we conduct a further preoperation review of bird and bat strike risk.

Senator RHIANNON: And what is the point of that, considering it has already been accepted that the airport can go ahead, that it is acceptable that there are two major conservation and national park areas within these zones and that it is recommended that we should not have a habitat within those areas. So what is the point of that further study at that point?

Mr Taylor: I think that is a very good question. There was an EIS conducted in 1985, and there was also a bird and bat strike review conducted then; there was another EIS between 1997 and 1999, and also a bird and bat strike review conducted then; and there was another one between 2014 and 2016, the one we are referring to now with another bird and bat strike review. Each of them found there was no significant risk. Your question gets to why you would conduct another one, and the answer to that is that, as we look forward, we do not know what we do not know now, and to be safest, and to follow our consultants' advice and recommendations here, we have determined that a further review is required. But there is a firm trendline here where there is a low risk about bird and bat strike for this site.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you, Mr Taylor. Mr Mrdak, I want to move onto the issue of fuel being supplied to Western Sydney Airport. I understand at the moment that it will be trucked in but possibly in the future there could be a pipeline. Is that a fair summary?

 Mr Mrdak: That is correct, and Mr Taylor can give you an update in relation to the work, which is one of the conditions of the EIS, which is work that is underway in relation to future planning for pipeline provision.

Mr McRandle: I might actually take that one.

Senator RHIANNON: Can I just add a little bit, because it might be able to then come into your answer. Knowing the prices of Sydney land, is that being factored into planning for the pipeline so there is actually the land available to build this pipeline?

Mr McRandle: Yes. We are looking at options in consultation with the New South Wales government, and a preference would be to use an existing transport corridor or other fuel corridor that already exists in the Sydney region that we could follow out to the airport. That work is being conducted now, and it was one of the conditions of the EIS that we undertook that fuel study. That work is underway and should be completed by the end of this year, but we will be looking, clearly, with the New South Wales government at what the best routes would be for that corridor.

Senator RHIANNON: So a fuel study is actually looking at the routes. That is the first part of it, and then the next part is—

Mr McRandle: Looking at the requirements for the fuel to the airport and what options there would be for fuel pipelines to supply the airport when it is needed.

Senator RHIANNON: And is there another stage of then starting to plan for purchasing that land?

Mr McRandle: Well, it will depend what the findings are around the timing for the requirements for the fuel pipeline. You may be aware that airports rely on fuel supplied through a variety of means. For example, Canberra Airport uses trucked fuel, Sydney Airport has proximity to piped fuel and Melbourne Airport uses a combination of trucked and piped fuel. This will be a progressive assessment. Obviously, the airport is just short of a decade away from operation, so it will be taking the first step of looking at those options now and then making assessments about the best way to proceed.

Senator RHIANNON: Is it fair to summarise it by saying that the pipeline will be built when it is judged that it would be economic to build it?

Ms McRandle: It will be built when the supply would make sense for the volumes required by the airport. The volumes of fuel required by the airport in the early years of operation are not likely to be very high, so the need could most effectively be dealt with through truck fuel—as, for example, is the case at Canberra Airport.

Mr Whalen: As part of the work being undertaken in the study on fuel pipelines and corridors, New South Wales is looking at this issue not just from the point of view of fuel for the airport but also from the perspective of corridor preservation for a whole range of different fuels that could be piped across Sydney rather than trucked. The timing of the preservation of those corridors and the development of the fuel pipeline is something that will come out of their report—which will consider the whole range of fuel needs for the Sydney region.

Senator RHIANNON: For all of Western Sydney—for industry, transport and all sorts of uses? Is that what you are saying?

Mr Whalen: That is right.

Senator RHIANNON: Please update us on the issue or rail versus road with regard to the airport. Are there any studies with regard to rail, or is it all just about upgrading roads to service the airport?

Mr Mrdak: I will ask Mr McRandle to take you through it. A very large piece of rail planning work by the Commonwealth and New South Wales is nearing completion.

Mr McRandle: A rail study was announced by the then Deputy Prime Minister and the New South Wales transport minister in November 2015. It was to examine the need for rail for servicing both the airport and the broader Western Sydney community. That work commenced through the development of a discussion paper that was released to the public in September last year. That paper was available for comment for about six weeks. We are now working with Transport for NSW on assessing options for rail in Western Sydney and to service the airport—and to look at what the appropriate timing would be for that work and how it should be funded. That study, as Mr Mrdak mentioned, is nearing a conclusion. It will be presented to both the state and federal governments near the middle of the year to enable them to consider what investment and reach strategies should be pursued. The other part of the work we are conducting in the Western Sydney unit is the on-site investigation for the rail alignment on the airport site itself. We are looking at options for the route the rail should follow through the airport, the number of stations that should be serviced on the airport and the depth underground that rail line would need to go in order to operate in concert with the airport.

Senator RHIANNON: I have some questions about the flights coming in. I know we do not have much time, so I will ask a couple of questions and then put some more on notice. In what I have read, those flights are going to land 'head to head'. Can someone explain that to me, please? I understand that you get to a point where there are limitations on the expansion in numbers. Can you start off by explaining how that works, please?

Mr McRandle: Typically aircraft will take off and land into the wind. That improves the performance of the aircraft and shortens the runway distance needed for them to get airborne. If the wind is reasonably light, it is possible for aircraft to land in either direction on the runway. At airports where there are residential areas near one part of the airport but not other parts, preference is given to departures and arrivals that go over the nonresidential areas. Brisbane Airport is an example. During the overnight period—Brisbane does not have a curfew—the preference is for flights to come in over Moreton Bay on approach and to depart over Moreton Bay. That requires the aircraft to be safely separated—because you have aircraft coming towards the airport and departing from the airport in the same direction. The advice that we have had from the Airservices technical experts is that you can operate around 20 movements an hour—a movement is either a take-off or a landing—and operate on a head-to-head basis safely and keep the aircraft safe and separated, according to the required standards. It works very well for overnight because there is not a high volume of traffic that typically operates in the overnight period—Melbourne and Brisbane, for example.

Senator RHIANNON: Will you only be doing this overnight?

Mr McRandle: It would be used overnight primarily, but it could also be used at any time of day when there were numbers of aircraft movements at 20 or below, where they could be safely separated.

Senator RHIANNON: Isn't this going to limit the number of movements that you will have? Therefore, does it cause problems with regard to the productivity or the usefulness of the airport?

Mr McRandle: It would not be applied as a strict cap on the number of aircraft movements. It would be a preference that would operate where it is safe to do so. That is the government's policy position, and it was described in the final EIS. You can normally operate those sorts of head-to-head operations overnight, and that is probably the area where there is no sensitivity around aircraft noise within the community. There would not be an imperative to operate head-to-head operations during normal sorts of daylight hours, so there would be no restriction on the number of flights.

Senator RHIANNON: You said earlier that the noise was not a problem because there were no residences that required noise pollution restrictions. So why are you using head to head if noise is not an issue for locals?

Mr McRandle: I want to distinguish between two aspects. Your first question is around noise insulation for houses and public buildings. If we apply the same policy that was applied at Sydney Airport previously, and at Adelaide Airport, there would be no houses that fall within the noise contours very nearby the airport. But, clearly, the aircraft need to approach and depart from the airport, and at some stage those aircraft will travel over parts of urbanised areas. We want to minimise the number of overflights of those urbanised areas and we do that by managing the flight paths around head to head. The noise mitigation using insulation is for residences that are close to the airport. You would know that, for example, at Sydney (Kingsford Smith) Airport houses are very close to the airport. It is a legacy of the way the airport and city have grown up together. At the site of Badgerys Creek there is very low residential density around the airport; therefore, the noise insulation program would in all likelihood find no houses that would be eligible for the insulation scheme. But during the head-to-head operations it is really to deal with not just around the airport but further out, as the aircraft arrive and depart.

Senator RHIANNON: Is it fair to say that the head-to-head flight paths would operate while you are not under pressure to have more planes coming and going, but once the pressure is on you might sacrifice that head to head and go back to flight paths where you can accommodate more landings and more take-offs—and therefore it could get noisier at that point?

Mr McRandle: The head-to-head operations always work on the basis that safety must take priority. That is the separation of aircraft. During the daylight hours, when the peak periods occur—and typically at airports there is a morning peak and an afternoon and evening peak—you would not be able to run head-to-head operations as the airport began to build up the traffic numbers. Overnight it is possible to run head to head for most of the hours because a small number of flights come in for those hours. That makes it possible to keep those head-to-head operations running.

Senator RHIANNON: Sorry, we are running out of time. My question was: it is anticipated that the usage of the Western Sydney Airport is going to go up, so as the usage goes up would you be sacrificing head-to-head flights to accommodate that increase in traffic?

Mr McRandle: If the traffic increased above 20 movements an hour. But typically overnight—that is, the hours that Kingsford Smith airport is curfewed—it would be unusual to reach levels of 20 movements an hour or more.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you, Mr McRandle. 

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