Annual Report 2019-2020

  1. From the Ombudsman
  2. Complaints
  3. Noise improvement opportunities
  4. Community engagement and information provision
  5. ANO reviews
  6. ANO publications
  7. Financial results
  8. Attachment 1 ANO Complaint Statistics
  9. Attachment 2 Noise improvement opportunities
  10. Attachment 3 ANO assessment of action on recommendations

    Full report 1mb

From the Ombudsman

This has been a year of substantial change for the Aircraft Noise Ombudsman (ANO).

Ms Narelle Bell completed her term on 8 February 2020 and I began my term the next day. It is clear from Ms Bell's work, as well as that of the previous ANO, Mr Ron Brent, that Airservices has faced substantial challenges in delivering effective community engagement when implementing new flight paths. The ANO report this year on Airservices' community engagement regarding new flight paths at the Sunshine Coast Airport demonstrates that these challenges persist. 

Significant recommendations made by Ms Bell in her report on flight path changes at Hobart were aimed at improving Airservices capabilities, policies and practices in community engagement. The Board of Airservices accepted these recommendations and the remaining recommendations were implemented during the year.

This is a good start – Airservices has appointed a senior experienced officer with responsibility for the area and has begun a substantial revision of its community engagement procedures and how they fit into the rest of the organisation. This is a major undertaking and it will take time to become effective.

It will be a priority for the ANO over the next few years to engage constructively with Airservices as it develops its capacity to respond to and consult more effectively with the community. This will include the ANO providing feedback to Airservices on issues concerning affected communities; contributing to the development of relevant policies; and actively monitoring and advising on specific community engagement processes. Ideally, more effective community engagement will lead to fewer complaints.

Similarly, the ANO's work with Defence has focused on the need for a high level of community engagement and improved administrative practices including in the provision of noise related information. The ANO carried out extensive work to complete the second audit of Defence's compliance with the conditions relating to the Super Hornets and throughout this process, Defence demonstrated it was committed to responsibly managing aircraft noise impacts. However, improved administrative rigour is required to ensure Defence can clearly substantiate this.

Complaints, however, will remain a core function of the ANO. This year the ANO:

In March, the ANO office adapted well to new working arrangements for all staff due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The ANO staff continue to work remotely in line with Government guidance and the office has successfully managed to continue all of its operations with limited disruption.

In June, the ANO office farewelled long-term Senior Advisor, Kate Burmester, who was a founding staff member of the office and who made a significant contribution to the development and growth of the office over the last 10 years.

The ANO is well placed to deliver on the responsibilities set out in its Charter. I would like to thank the previous ANOs for their hard work in increasing the capacity of the office and look forward to building on their work.


Kieran Pehm
Aircraft Noise Ombudsman
28 August 2020

ANO Structure 2019-20

Complaints

Complaint statistics
2.1

The ANO received 134 complaints in 2019-20, which remains slightly high but represents a return to more normal levels of complaints. The following image shows how the complaints were handled.

2.2 The ANO started the financial year with 321 open complaints and received a further 134 complaints during the period. Of the total 455 complaints handled in 2019-20, 420 were closed. Of these, 350 complaints were reviewed in detail, 55 were referred back to either Airservices or Defence to respond to directly, eight were closed without review due to a lack of information from the complainant and seven were closed as outside the scope of the ANO Charter. This left 35 open complaints carried forward into the 2020-21 financial year.
2.3 Attachment 1 provides a more detailed summary of ANO complaint statistics for 2019-20.
2.4

Table 1 below shows the number of complaints reviewed compared with the total number of complaints handled over the last five years. This shows an increase in the percentage of complaints that are handled by the ANO are being reviewed.

Table 1: Complaints reviewed versus total complaints handled over time

  Complaints handled* Complaints closed Complaints reviewed** Complaints reviewed %
2015-16 271 254 120 47%
2016-17 131 119 70 59%
2017-18 115 104 65 63%
2018-19 413 92 39 42%
2019-20 455 420 350 77%

*Complaints handled – includes all complaints received;
**Complaints reviewed – includes only those complaints investigated (others are not reviewed due to being out of scope or need to be referred to the agency in the first instance)

2.5

Table 2 below shows the changes in the annual and per month average for ANO complaints received over time.

Table 2: Complaints received by financial year, with % change from previous year

  Total fin. year Ave per month % Change
Jul 2015-Jun 2016 (12 mths) 254 21.2 ↑ 6.3%
Jul 2016-Jun 2017 (12 mths) 114 9.5 ↓ 55.1%
Jul 2017-Jun 2018 (12 mths) 103 8.6 ↓ 9.6%
Jul 2018 –Jun 2019 (12 mths) 402 33.5 ↑ 290.2%
Jul 2019 –Jun 2020 (12 mths) 134 11.2 ↓ 66.7%
2.6 The decrease in complaints received in 2019-20 compared to the previous financial year is due to the large amount of complaints received in 2018-19 relating to the proposed flight path changes at Sunshine Coast Airport.
2.7

The table and graphs over the page demonstrate the return of the ANO to more regular numbers of complaints about Airservices following the significant increase during the 2018-2019 year from Sunshine Coast. However, complaints about Defence are higher than they have been since 2016-2017.

 Table 3: Complaints received by agency in 2016-17  to 2019-20

  Total Airservices % Change Total
Defence
% Change
2015-16 242   12  
2016-17 99 ↓ 59.1% 15 ↓ 25%
2017-18 96 ↓ 3.0% 7 ↓ 53.3%
2018-19 393 ↑ 309.4% 9 ↑ 28.6%
2019-20 120 ↓69.5% 13 ↑ 44.4%


Note – The above table does not include the one unidentified 2019-20 case where neither Defence nor Airservices were identified as the relevant agency.

Graph 1a: Complaints received about Airservices, 2015-16 to 2019-20

Graph 1b: Complaints received about Defence, 2015-16 to 2019-20

2.8 Table 4 below shows that of the 350 complaints reviewed in 2019-2020, 310 (88.57%) led to change. The remaining 40 cases (11.43%) did not result in a change, however, the ANO, having investigated the issues, provided a detailed explanation to the complainant about why there was no practical change identified for the short to medium term.
2.9 The 306 cases closed with a change adopted by Airservices is unusually high as it reflects the finalisation of the Sunshine Coast multiple complaints review on 30 June 2020 and the subsequent closure of 299 complaints about the Sunshine Coast flight paths.
2.10

Four complaints led to change by Defence. These changes included improving the complaint handling process at a Defence base; providing better information to a complainant; the development of infrastructure and operating procedures to support changes with the aim of further reducing the amount of traffic in the vicinity of a complainant's property; and, improving responsiveness of Defence to complainants.

Table 4: Outcome of complaints reviewed by the ANO in 2019-20

Complaints reviewed and closed:   %
No change possible - explanation provided 40 11.43%
Change adopted by Airservices/Defence 310 88.57%
Change adopted by airport operator 0 0
Change adopted by operator 0 0


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Noise improvement opportunities

3.1 One noise improvement opportunity was identified in the 2019-20 financial year and a further one opportunity was carried forward that had been identified but not finalised from the previous year. Both were finalised in 2019-20.
3.2 Attachment 2 summarises the noise improvement opportunities considered in 2019-20.


Community engagement and information provision

4.1 In 2019-20, ANO staff continued to attend a variety of community and aviation industry meetings however, since March 2020, the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic limited any travel for the Ombudsman and staff. Many meetings were able to be held via teleconference or on an online meeting platform, which enabled continued engagement and interaction.
4.2 ANO staff attended 12 meetings or events involving industry and community stakeholders over the year. The ANO attended an international meeting with the United Kingdom's Independent Commission on Civil Aviation Noise (ICCAN), an organisation established by the UK Government as an 'independent non-statutory advisory arms-length body asked to act as the credible and impartial voice on all matters relating to civil aviation noise'. This provided the ANO with a valuable opportunity to discuss international trends and practices in the management of aircraft noise.
4.3 ANO staff attended six airport Community Aviation Consultation Group (CACG) (or equivalent) meetings. Attending these meetings as observers provides the ANO staff with direct knowledge of emerging aircraft noise management issues as well as assisting to foster a broader understanding and awareness of the ANO's role and aircraft noise management issues.
4.4 Additionally, ANO staff take the opportunity at these meetings to monitor the effectiveness of community engagement undertaken by Airservices and Defence including their presentation and distribution of aircraft noise-related information.

Airservices' Community Engagement

4.5 Pursuant to clause 61 of the ANO Charter, the ANO is working to build a constructive relationship with Airservices in discharging its responsibility to monitor Airservices' community engagement processes, presentation and distribution of aircraft noise related information.
4.6 The ANO and Airservices are developing a protocol for more active engagement by the ANO in the evolution of Airservices' community engagement including advising on policies and procedures as they are developed and liaising with Airservices staff on particular engagement projects as they are delivered.


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ANO reviews

5.1 Attachment 3 summarises the ANO's assessment of progress on all recommendations that were either open at the start of or made during this financial year.

Airservices

Hobart

5.2 The ANO published its Investigation into complaints about the introduction of new flight paths in Hobart, in April 2018. The report made thirteen recommendations and the Board of Airservices accepted all recommendations.
5.3 As at 1 July 2019, the ANO was continuing to monitor seven outstanding recommendations from its Hobart review. Airservices presented information to demonstrate its actions to address the outstanding recommendations – the ANO considered this information and was satisfied all seven recommendations could be closed.
5.4 The ANO is still considering a number of outstanding complaints about the Hobart Airspace Design Review process, which led to the subsequent redesign of the airspace and flight paths introduced in November 2019. We have also received complaints from individuals in areas newly affected by aircraft noise since these changed arrangements took effect.


Sunshine Coast

5.5 From 22 April to the end of July 2019, the ANO received 299 complaints regarding the proposed flight paths to support a new runway at Sunshine Coast Airport.
5.6 On 30 April 2020, the ANO completed its multiple complaints investigation into the new flight paths at Sunshine Coast airport and submitted its Investigation into complaints about the introduction of new flight paths in Sunshine Coast report to the Airservices Board.
5.7 The ANO's report found that while Airservices has a responsibility to engage with the community on the environmental impact of aircraft operations, it relied on consultation, in which it took no part, which was carried out by the airport development project subsequent to an environmental impact statement from 2014/15. Airservices' later consultation led to public confusion about the relative responsibilities of Airservices and the Sunshine Coast Council and this persisted throughout the consultation period and after. 
5.8 The ANO's report made two recommendations for improving Airservices' community engagement framework and practices: that Airservices develop a robust and dependable framework for third party proposed changes; and that Airservices use its post-implementation review process to re-engage with communities and consider community-suggested alternatives to the implemented flight paths.
5.9 The Airservices Board accepted the ANO's recommendations and both the report and the Board's response were published on the ANO website on 30 June 2020.


Systemic Review of Community Engagement

5.10 In 2018 the Airservices Board requested the ANO conduct a systemic review of the effectiveness of the community engagement systems of Airservices as a result of significant concerns highlighted in the ANO's review of Airservices' introduction of new flight paths in Hobart. The systemic review examined Airservices' readiness to engage effectively with communities about aircraft noise issues:
  • arising through its own change initiatives
  • resulting from its own business as usual activities
  • specifically in the context of major airport infrastructure projects scheduled over the next decade.
5.11 On 30 April 2020, the ANO completed its systemic review of Airservices' community engagement and submitted its Review of Airservices Australia's systems for community engagement - Final Report to the Airservices Board.
5.12 The ANO reviewed Airservices' policies, procedures, processes and systems relating to community engagement, reviewed previous community engagement activities and observed current community engagement events and processes. The ANO also considered feedback from industry and community stakeholders and considered contemporary standards and best practice principles of community engagement within Australia and internationally.
5.13 The ANO's report acknowledged Airservices' approach to community engagement has been undergoing significant change over the last 18 months, including a program of continuous improvement and introduction of new, contemporary engagement practices and frameworks. Airservices has improved its community engagement capacity and acquired relevant expertise through new appointments.
5.14 However, Airservices is facing serious challenges posed by the major airport infrastructure developments planned for the next decade. Airservices will need to ensure its evolving approach to community engagement allows flight paths and other airspace changes to be designed with a more internally integrated approach that involves community engagement from the beginning and a more collaborative approach with the community in line with best or common practice.
5.15 Further, the ANO highlighted that one of the biggest challenges for Airservices will be the complex relationships with other entities that arise from third-party initiated flight path changes which will require Airservices to fully develop and document principles for governance and risk minimisation of partnerships with third party change proponents.
5.16 The ANO made six recommendations arising out of these findings, which were accepted by the Airservices Board, and both the report and the Board's response were published on the ANO website on 30 June 2020.


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Defence

Review of Defence's Aircraft Noise Complaints Management System

5.17 In November 2019, the ANO closed the final recommendation from its Review of Defence's Aircraft Noise Complaints Management System (November 2016).
5.18 That review, delivered in November 2016, assessed the effectiveness of Defence's handling of complaints about aircraft noise against the requirements for 'Operation of the Complaint Management System' set out in Chapter 8 of the Australian/New Zealand Standard 10002:2014 'Guidelines for complaint management in organisations'.
5.19 The final recommendation was for 'Defence to review and improve web based information on aircraft noise'. The ANO closed this recommendation after Defence provided evidence it is taking action to address the issues with the website and advised that it will conduct a full review of its web based information in future.


Compliance Audit of Defence's Super Hornet Operations at Amberley

5.20 In October 2019, the ANO completed a comprehensive audit of Defence's compliance with the Conditions of Approval for its Australian Super Hornet Flying Operations at RAAF Base Amberley and submitted a report to the Chief of Air Force.
5.21 The ANO assessed Defence's level of compliance against each Condition of Approval and each requirement identified from the three associated approved plans. A finding on the level of compliance was made in line with the Compliance Finding categories defined in the Independent Audit and Audit Report Guidelines1 (2015 Guidelines) that were in force at the time the audit criteria and methodology were approved.
5.22 The ANO found that Defence was compliant with four of the eight Conditions of Approval, non-compliant with three and one Condition was not applicable. The ANO made nine recommendations aimed at improving Defence's compliance with the Conditions of Approval and the requirements of the plans and strategies required by these Conditions. Further, two suggested improvements were identified to enhance Defence's public reporting on its aircraft noise management more broadly.
5.23 In summary, the ANO considered that Defence had complied with the intent of the Conditions of Approval in relation to managing the effects of aircraft noise on the community and the environment. However, it had some work to do to establish effective systems to facilitate the necessary administrative, records management and reporting frameworks required to substantiate its performance against these Conditions.
5.24 In May 2020, the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment ('the Department') advised the ANO that the 2015 Guidelines had been updated in July 2019 and amended to remove the Compliance Finding category 'undetermined'. The Department asked the ANO to clarify any findings in its Audit report that reference a compliance rating as 'undetermined' to align with the updated 2019 Guidelines' Compliance Finding categories.
5.25 The ANO prepared an Addendum to the October 2019 report, which determined that, in each case where an 'undetermined' finding had been made, the appropriate Compliance Finding in line with the updated 2019 Guidelines was 'non-compliant'.
5.26 The ANO noted that clarification of the Compliance Findings did not result in any amendment, addition or removal of the recommendations made in the original Audit report of October 2019. The ANO's overall conclusion was unchanged from the original Audit report of October 2019 – that is, the ANO considers that Defence had complied with the intent of the Conditions of Approval in relation to managing the effects of aircraft noise on the community and the environment but that it had some work to do to improve some aspects of its performance.

1 Commonwealth of Australia, Independent Audit and Audit Report Guidelines for controlled actions which have been approved under Chapter 4 of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, 2015, p. 11-12


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ANO publications

6.1 In addition to its quarterly reports and last year's annual report, the ANO published the following on its website during 2019-2020:
  • Review of Airservices Australia's systems for community engagement - Final Report (April 2020)
  • Airservices Board response to ANO Review of Airservices Australia's systems for community engagement (June 2020)
  • Investigation into complaints about the introduction of new flight paths in Sunshine Coast (April 2020)
  • Airservices Board response to ANO Investigation into complaints about the introduction of new flight paths in Sunshine Coast (June 2020)
  • Addendum to Compliance Audit of Australian Super Hornet Flying Operations at RAAF Base Amberley - October 2019 (issued May 2020)
  • Compliance Audit of Australian Super Hornet Flying Operations at RAAF Base Amberley - October 2019.


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Financial results

7.1 The ANO operates autonomously in managing its financial accountabilities. In line with the ANO Charter, the ANO independently determines how funds and resources are allocated within the budget provided by Airservices and Defence.
7.2 In February 2019, the ANO received approval for a three-year budget allocation covering the period 2018-19 to 2020-21. This means the ANO no longer needs to seek funding annually, allows for flexibility in managing expenditure peaks and troughs across financial years and further strengthens the office's independence.
7.3 During 2019-2020, the ANO effectively managed its budget, with actual expenditure 6% below the budget allocation. The total operating expenditure of the office was $684 236 against a total budget of $727 709. The small under-spend compared to budget reflects reduced expenditure on travel costs in the last quarter of the financial year due to the restrictions imposed by COVID-19. It is expected COVID-19 will continue to have an impact on travel for the Ombudsman and ANO staff into the next financial year with limited attendance in person at any events or meetings for the foreseeable future. Given the uncertainty of the aviation sector, the ANO is also mindful of the need to be prudent with any expenditure into the 2020-2021 financial year.
7.4

Graph 2 below shows the ANO budget and actual expenditure over the last five years.

Graph 2: ANO budget and actual expenditure 2015-16 to 2019-2020

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Last Updated: November 25, 2020