Airspace Protection

To ensure sustainable future growth and the safety of aircraft and airline passengers, airspace surrounding an airport must be protected from inappropriate development. For this reason, government regulations have long recognised the need to restrict the height of buildings and other structures (such as cranes) near airports or under flight paths.

These regulations aim to ensure that:

  • The airspace aircraft fly in is obstacle-free
  • Radar and other air navigation equipment can operate free from interference and
  • Airport safety lights are not obscured

In the QLD State Planning Policy, this protected airspace is formally known as “operational airspace” i.e. the airspace around a strategic airport in which aircraft take off, land or manoeuvre defined as OLS and PANS-OPS.

Obstacle Limitation Surface (OLS)

The OLS is defined by international specifications, as adopted by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority. It defines the airspace surrounding an airport that must be protected from obstacles to ensure aircraft flying an entirely visual approach or in the final segments of a visual approach can do so safely.

To protect these surfaces at Cairns Airport, annual obstacle monitoring surveys are conducted and the results published on this webpage, below. Daily obstacle monitoring is conducted by airport airside operations officers, in conjunction with approved building activities within the airport vicinity, to maintain the safety, efficiency and regularity of aircraft operations into and out of Cairns Airport.

The following drawings can also be downloaded below:

Procedures for Air Navigation Services – Aircraft Operations (PANS-OPS) Surfaces

At major airports, radio and satellite navigation aids enable aircraft to fly safely in poor weather (known as “instrument meteorological conditions”). In such conditions, visibility can be close to zero due to cloud or fog. To avoid collisions, pilots need to know that the airspace they are flying in is free of obstacles.

Other Surfaces

Other surfaces are defined to ensure off-airport obstacles don’t interfere with signals from ground-based air navigation equipment (such as radar) or obscure airport safety lights (such as high intensity approach lights, or HIAL). If radar signals are interfered with, a pilot might receive inaccurate information about the location of the aircraft in relation to the airport. If the HIAL is obscured, particularly in low visibility conditions when it is most needed, a pilot may lose sight of the runway just before touch down. Both scenarios pose an obvious risk to safety.

On-airport Work Activities e.g. Operational Height Applications (Cranes)

Cairns Airport Pty Ltd controls on-airport works and development activities. Applications to carry out crane operations should be made in writing to CAPL at least 72 hours prior to the commencement of any activity. You should complete the electronic application form HERE. Applications submitted with less than 72 hours’ notice may not be approved on time. Upon receipt CAPL will review the application at the earliest opportunity and revert to you with an approval or reject notification. If the application is rejected, the reasons will be stated and the crane operation must not go ahead until CAPL is satisfied that the crane operation can be accommodated in full compliance with aviation safety regulations. CAPL Aerodrome staff will provide guidance to the operator as to the nature of amendments that are necessary to achieve this outcome.

Any approved crane operation must adhere to the conditions stated on the approval notification.

On some occasions, this information needs to be reviewed in consultation with the Civil Aviation Safety Authority and Airservices Australia once provided. This process can take up to six weeks depending on the height and location of the obstacle. As a result, it is critical that consultation with the airport on any major projects is undertaken at an early stage. The information required in the application must include:

  • the nature of the proposed activity (ie crane operations)
  • its precise location (street directory grid references can be used)
  • the maximum height of the crane above Australian Height Datum (AHD)
  • whether there is any marking or lighting installed on the crane
  • proposed operating hours, and any other relevant information.

Off-airport Work Activities

The primary focus of airspace protection is to ensure off-airport development activity does not compromise aviation safety. Aerodrome safeguarding therefore involves aspects of land use planning and development control, which need to be managed cooperatively with external responsible authorities, including the QLD government and local councils.

Interactive maps showing the various Airport Environs overlays are useful for development planning purposes and can be found via the following external link directing to you the Cairns Regional Council mapping section.

Visit Cairns Regional Council Mapping Section here.

1. Tick the layer icon on the right side on top of the webpage:

Cairns Mapping Image 1

2. Tick the "Airport Environs overlay" box:

Cairns Mapping Image 2

The layers that appear can be selected and deselected as relevant e.g. for crane operations ‘Procedures for Air Navigation Services – Aircraft Operational (PANS-OPS) Surfaces’, ‘Obstacle limitation surface contours’ and ‘Obstacle limitation surface’ are relevant:

Cairns Mapping Image 3