• A VTC section showing the location of the proposed gas plume.
    A VTC section showing the location of the proposed gas plume.

CASA's Office of Airspace Regulation (OAR) has said it will not support a Danger Area over an Open Cycle Gas Turbine (OCGT) proposed for the circuit area at Illawarra Regional Airport because it did not sufficiently mitigate the risks to aviation safety.

The move comes after a meeting of the NSW Regional Airspace and Procedures Advisory Committee (RAPAC) in May voted to reject an Airspace Change Proposal (ACP) that would place a Danger Area over the Tallawarra B power station, and to oppose the establishment of the power station itself.

Approval for the Energy Australia project was dependent on the power station not having an impact on aviation safety, which was thought to be accounted for by placing a Danger Area over the gas plume.

The task of assessing the impact on aviation fell to the OAR, which ultimately found the Danger Area was not sufficient.

"CASA has concluded that the proposed Danger Area may not fully mitigate the risk to aviation, and that the establishment of a Danger Area at this site would nevertheless generate additional risks to aviation safety," CASA Manager Industry Relations Matthew Bouttell told NSW RAPAC.

"On the basis that the risk to aviation resulting from the location of the Danger Area cannot be mitigated to achieve an acceptable level of safety for all airspace users the OAR has determined that the ACP is not supported."

Without CASA's approval, the project appears not to meet the safety condition, but the regulator told Australian Flying that their assessment is not about the power station, just the impact on safety of the proposed Danger Area.

"CASA is not the approving authority for the power station," a spokesperson said, "that is NSW Planning, who has requested CASA assess whether it poses a risk to aviation. Now that CASA/OAR has provided it’s advice the decision whether to proceed or not remains with NSW Planning."

When the original approval for Tallawarra B was issued in 2010, it was dependent on CASA agreeing that there was no risk to aviation safety.

"Nothing in this approval permits the construction and operation of an open cycle gas turbine plant, unless the Proponent has submitted a report to the Secretary which demonstrates that operation of an open cycle gas turbine plant will not have an adverse impact on aviation safety," the approval states.

"This report must be prepared in consultation with Shellharbour City Council, and its conclusions and recommendations must have been agreed to by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority."

Without CASA's blessing, the gas plume appears to have been stopped for the time being.

The Illawarra aviation community, supported by AOPA Australia, presented the RAPAC meeting with several objections to the proposal, including:

  • moderate turbulence expected from the power station equated to severe turbulence for RAAus aircraft and LSAs
  • traffic in the Wollongong circuit was significantly different to that used in the proponent's modeling
  • an EFATO incident in one of the Historical Aircraft Restoration Society's large twins would place it in the gas plume
  • student pilots would often need to hold over Lake Illawarra close to the gas plume
  • examples of other airports with nearby gas plumes were not relevant to the Wollongong situation

Shellharbour Council also noted that a Closed Cycle Gas Turbine (CCGT) would meet existing approvals.

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