COMMUNITY GROUP UNCOVERS AVIATION SAFETY HAZARD CONCEALED BY SUNSHINE COAST COUNCIL

Community group Flight Path Forum (FPF) has unearthed a major public and aviation safety hazard linked to the proposed Sunshine Coast Airport Expansion Project. FPF says the hazard should have been disclosed and assessed in the Council’s 2014 Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) but this was never done. Consequently, all subsequent Commonwealth and State approvals have been built on a flawed foundation.

“A major public and aviation safety risk linked to the project has been known to the SCC since 2013,” said Flight Path Forum President Cheryl Sykes. “This relates to flyrock, dust and shock wave impacts from blasting operations at a hard rock quarry site located directly under the critical low altitude arrival and departure flight paths proposed for the new runway.

“The Terms of Reference for the airport EIS required the Council, as proponent of the project, to provide information on all hazards associated with the new runway and flight paths. Yet the serious hazard of the hard rock quarry was not disclosed in the EIS prepared by SCC, and reliance on the EIS by all other State and Commonwealth approval agencies, including CASA, Airservices Australia, the Coordinator-General and the Queensland Treasury Corporation has compounded the issue,” said Ms. Sykes.

“The withholding of this information is a very serious matter. We note that S. 157O of the State Development and Public Works Organisation Act (1971) states:

A person must not, in relation to the performance of the Coordinator-General’s functions, give the Coordinator-General a document containing information the person knows is false or misleading in a material particular.

“Given the documentation we have provided of the omission of any reference to the known public and aviation safety risks from the hard rock quarry, we believe it is imperative that the Office of the Coordinator-General urgently investigate the reasons for the withholding of this critical safety information in the Environmental Impact Statement provided to them in 2014.

“Of additional concern are the financial implications of this non-disclosure. The Sunshine Coast Airport Expansion project has required significant financial investment, with a Commonwealth concessional loan of $181M and a commercial operating partnership with Palisade Investment Partners with a lifetime value of $605M being secured. However, it is unclear whether all stakeholders have been informed of the aviation safety risk and operational efficiency risks argued by Council in the Court. What is clear though is that the community was most definitely denied the opportunity to examine and comment on these risks.”

“We believe that the withholding of serious hazard risk information has irreparably tainted all subsequent approval processes since 2013 at both State and Commonwealth Government levels and the consequences are far-reaching. This failed process has produced proposed flight paths in which there is now an embedded safety risk. We strongly contend that is it unacceptable for the community, the travelling public and the aviation industry to be forced to now accept the risk of an in-air aviation incident as unavoidable, inevitable and permanent.

“Therefore, we are demanding an urgent, comprehensive, and transparent review of the currently proposed flight paths.

Background
The EIS for the airport expansion project was being prepared by SCC between 2012 and 2014. During the very same period, Council was defending an appeal in the Planning and Environment Court for the development of a hard rock quarry at Yandina Creek. (Parklands Blue Metal Pty Ltd v Sunshine Coast Regional Council & Ors [2014])

New flight path routes for the airport project had been developed in 2012 prior to awareness of the proposed new quarry. SCC subsequently received in-principle approval from Airservices Australia to enable inclusion in the EIS. Critical low altitude arrival and departure routes fly directly over the quarry and have never been changed.

Council was made aware of the public and aviation safety risks from blasting at the quarry in July 2013. At that time, the aviation expert who had designed the flight path concepts advised, ““My opinion is that blasting at the location is completely incompatible with aviation activities involving approach and departure of commercial aircraft at low altitudes in critical phases of flight given the new runway location. For a conclusive assessment a full aeronautical risk study should be carried out by the council to assess the impact on flying operations associated with the new runway prior to issuing any approvals for such activities.”

When Council discovered this, it took the aviation safety risk so seriously that leave was sought from the Court to add this to the grounds for refusal of the quarry. Council subsequently vigorously prosecuted the safety risks from the quarry. Expert evidence from the court hearings is on the public record.

The Court subsequently acknowledged the aviation risk from operations of the quarry, and imposed conditions to ameliorate those risks i.e. aeronautical study and blast management protocols. However, those conditions have never been finalised and so the matter of public and aviation safety remains unresolved. Moreover, neither the Coordinator-General, CASA , Airservices Australia have provided evidence of any assessment of these risks, and consequently, both aviation companies and the general public have been denied the opportunity for consultation on this matter.

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