Airport environmental management

The department is responsible for the administration of the airport environmental regulatory regime at 22 federally-leased airports around Australia. These airports are managed under a comprehensive environmental regulatory framework established by the Airports Act 1996 and the Airports (Environment Protection) Regulations 1997. This regulatory framework applies to the management of all on-ground environmental issues, including air, soil, water, noise and chemical pollution on-airport. As the federally-leased airports are located on Commonwealth land, state and territory laws do not apply.

Additionally, the department works collaboratively with all federally leased airports to ensure the adoption of relevant national guidelines and standards, including:

Environmental Considerations in Airport Major Development Plans

The Airports Act 1996 (s89(1)(m-n)) defines a major airport development to include:

  • a development of a kind that is likely to have significant environmental or ecological impact; and
  • a development which affects an area identified as environmentally significant in the airport environment strategy.

An airport lessee company is required to prepare a Major Development Plan (MDP) for each major development at a federally-leased airport. The MDP must set out the environmental impacts that can reasonably be expected and the proponent’s proposed measures for dealing with those impacts. The Airports Act requires the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, in deciding to approve or refuse to approve an MDP, to have regard for “the impact that carrying out the plan would be likely to have on the environment” (s94(3)(c)). To inform this decision, the draft MDP is referred to the Department of the Environment and Energy for advice under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act).

The EPBC Act (s160(1) and (2c)) requires advice be sought and considered from the Minister for the Environment and Energy prior to a decision being made on the approval of an MDP. Following referral of a draft MDP, the Environment Minister has 20 business days to decide if the proposed action triggers matters protected by the EPBC Act and requires further assessment and approval. As part of the 20 business days, the EPBC Act provides a public comment period of 10 business days (with no extensions).

If significant impacts are considered likely on any matter of national environmental significance, and the action is deemed to be a controlled action, then the referral to the Environment Minister will proceed to environmental assessment and approval under the EPBC Act.

Airport Environment Officers

The department appoints Airport Environment Officers (AEOs) to oversight each airport’s compliance with its environmental legislative responsibilities. The AEOs are responsible for the day to day oversight of the operation of the airport environmental regulatory regime at the federally leased airports. The AEOs are authorised to make decisions regarding compliance with regulations and standards, and to take compliance action when there is a breach of the regulatory framework.

The AEOs operate within a compliance framework that clearly describes roles and responsibilities, and decision-making processes. The compliance framework promotes outcomes, evidence and risk-based approaches to administering environmental regulation on airports. An important component of the airport compliance framework is the early identification, assessment and management of risks within a risk assessment framework that is supported by a Risk Register for monitoring and reporting purposes.

Regulation Review

The Airports (Environment Protection) Regulations 1997 will sunset on 1 April 2019. The department is currently undertaking a review of the regulations, including consultation with industry stakeholders, to remake the regulations.

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Last Updated: 31 July, 2018