Sunshine Coast Airport
There has been a fair bit of misinformation circulating about the closure of the existing runway at the Sunshine Coast Airport, and this topic has come up in recent candidate forums.
Prevailing winds have dogged the operation of the existing north-south runway at the Sunshine Coast Airport since it was first opened. In fact, this was one of the many reasons that underpinned the case to develop a new runway on a north west – south east alignment.
When the new runway opens later this year, the existing runway will be decommissioned.
Larger aircraft cannot be parked on the northern side of the terminal because their tails would penetrate what is known as the obstacle limitation surface for the new runway – which would make the new runway unusable.
These larger aircraft need to be accommodated on the eastern side of the terminal, which means the southern portion of the existing runway has to become a taxiway. It cannot operate as a runway because it will be too close to the new apron on the eastern side of the terminal.
These issues became apparent during detailed design of the new runway and in November 2018, Council made it clear to the public that this would happen.
Last year, when the Sunshine Coast Airport developed its new Master Plan, it looked in some detail at the option of keeping the northern portion of the existing runway (approximately 800 metres) open for use by general aviation.
What became clear to the Sunshine Coast Airport is that it would be unsafe to operate the shorter northern portion of the existing runway because it would be on the same alignment as a taxiway (ie. the southern portion of the existing runway).
This would increase the likelihood of incidents where aircraft have attempted to land on a taxiway rather than a runway. From the air, pilots may view the taxiway as a continuation of the shorter runway. I am advised these “misalignment” incidents have occurred around the world, with the potential for catastrophic outcomes.
So, the Sunshine Coast Airport has decided that it is an unacceptable safety risk to maintain the northern portion of the existing runway. This position is supported as best practice by industry consultants, international aviation regulators and the Australian Airports industry body.
Sunshine Coast Airport also analysed wind direction and strength data over the last 10 years which showed that the shortened northern portion of the existing runway – if it was kept in use – would only be required for 0.24% of all operations currently at the Airport, based on aircraft characteristics.
It is important to remember at this time that any candidate committing to keep the existing runway open is making a false promise – because it is not Council’s decision to make.
Sunshine Coast Airport now holds and maintains all of the necessary licences and authorities to operate the Airport – including the CASA Certificate. They are no longer held by Council.
What this means is that Sunshine Coast Airport holds all of the general management and safe operations obligations for the Airport – which includes all matters to do with the safe operation of the runway and taxiways.
The Sunshine Coast Airport cannot be directed by Council in terms of how it decides to manage those obligations, particularly when it comes to safety of runway operations.
If the Sunshine Coast Airport decides that it is not safe to operate a particular runway or taxiway in a certain configuration, then that is their decision and their decision alone.
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