Canberra Airport Expansion: at what price?
Canberra Airport is proposing to become a 24-hour freight and passenger hub, and Sydney’s second airport. This will be a major expansion of Canberra Airport’s current operations, with significant impacts on the community.
Canberra Airport’s proposal is outlined in their 2009 Preliminary Draft Master Plan. The community has a right to know how this proposal will impact on their homes. This was recognised by the Minister for Transport, Anthony Albanese MP, in rejecting the Canberra Airport’s 2008 Draft Master Plan, in part because their response to the community had not been adequate, read the Minister’s media release.
So how will the proposed 24-hour freight and passenger hub impact on Canberra’s residents? The following picture can be drawn from Canberra Airport’s 2009 preliminary Draft Master Plan, with commentary by C4C.
How many planes can we expect?
In 2007/2008 there were 88,576 overall aircraft movements at Canberra Airport. Currently during sleeping hours (11pm to 6 am) there are only a very small number of planes (between 4 and 5) and these are small– large piston or turboprobs. Occasionally there are small jets.
In 20 years time, Canberra Airport’s mid-range forecast is for about 145,000 aircraft movements per year. Note that figures given by Canberra Airport in their draft Master Plan were shown to be wrong by Access Economics.
What types of planes can we expect?
The types of freight planes that will use Canberra Airport are much larger. They are listed as 737s, 757s, 767s and 747s (jumbo jets). Note that freight planes are usually older and louder.
How noisy will they be?
We know what sort of noise footprint that 737 and 767 aircraft generate because they are currently in use as passenger planes. Their noise readings have been measured by Airservices Australia’s new monitor in Hackett, which can be publicly viewed on Webtrak. C4C’s random samplings from Webtrak indicate that 737s can generate up to 70 decibels in Hackett. Airservices Australia’s first readings from the Hackett Noise Monitor indicate that average noise from 737s and 767s is 61.6 and 60.5 decibels respectively. This is well above the level of noise that will disturb sleep, and about 8 times louder than background noise at night.
These readings contradict Canberra Airport’s claims that ‘…no residents within the ACT…will be exposed at any time to noise over 65 decibels as part of a freight hub’ (page 80, 2009 Plan), and also contradict their modelling of noise footprints which suggests Hackett should only be receiving 50 decibels from 737 aircraft. They also demonstrate that sleep-disturbing levels of aircraft noise are experienced outside of the High Noise Corridor – this noise abatement measure is hopelessly inadequate for dealing with aircraft noise from a 24-hour freight hub.
An independent noise expert appointed by the ACT Government will provide accurate and reliable information on the aircraft noise footprint for North Canberra.
As a general rule, bigger planes have bigger noise footprints, and freight planes are older and noisier than passenger planes, so we anticipate the proposed jumbo jet freighters will be louder than the current aircraft noise levels we are experiencing
How many planes will there be during sleeping hours, and how often?
Canberra Airport is forecasting 15 flights per night between 11 pm and 6 am.
Will the planes be flying to the north or the south?
Airservices Australia determines whether planes take off and land to the north or the south. The current preference for night-time aircraft movements is landings and take-offs to the north. However, it is currently unknown whether this preference would remain if a 24-hour freight and passenger hub went ahead.
Will the planes disturb my sleep?
Noise experts say that people generally wake up when noise is over 40 to 45 decibels, but this can be lower for some people. Similarly, the World Health Organisation states that individual noise events exceeding 45 decibels should be avoided for a good night’s sleep (Guidelines for Community Noise, 1999). Note that current ACT noise protection legislation prohibits noise over 35 decibels in residential areas. Background noise in Canberra is very low (about 30 decibels) and the greater the difference between background noise and the noise event, the greater the impact.
Airservices Australia’s readings from the Hackett noise monitor shows that North Canberra is already receiving aircraft noise from passenger planes at levels that would disturb sleep.
However, you don’t even have to wake up for aircraft noise to disturb your sleep. Research by the European Commission’s HYENA study shows a clear link between high blood pressure and night-time exposure to aircraft noise. Their findings have been published in the European Heart Journal. In short, exposure to aircraft noise while you sleep damages your health.