Flight paths are highways in the sky. They define three-dimensional routes that aircraft use to arrive at or depart from an airport.
They are developed in accordance with standards established by organisations including the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) and The Office of Airspace Regulation (OAR) and are carefully formulated to ensure the safe and efficient operation of aircraft.
Find out more about why flight paths change, how our data is determined, just what is a decibel and much more.
Flight paths are the means through which air traffic is controlled and are based on Standard Arrival Routes (STARs) and Standard Instrument Departures (SIDs). Together, STARs and SIDs form the basis for flight paths that are used by pilots and airlines operating in controlled airspace.
Designing STARs and SIDs is a complex and lengthy task. It requires several specialist disciplines to work together to achieve a safe and efficient outcome. The design for Brisbane Airport has been completed by Airservices Australia in consultation with Brisbane Airport Corporation, in accordance with standards established by organisations including the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA).
In order to reach the best outcome for safe operations, noise abatement as well as reducing emissions, the Brisbane airspace design underwent twenty-one iterations before reaching a stage that it could be presented to CASA for approval.
Pre-determined flight paths are used by pilots to negotiate entry into and out of airspace, under the direction of air traffic controllers. By using a number of navigational tools that are established for each flight path, pilots can fly safely and confidently into and out of an airport even if they have never flown there before.
Aircraft are fitted with different navigational tools and this can dictate the flight path required for that particular aircraft. The choice on which flight path to use can also be influenced by weather conditions, aircraft separation requirements and the concentration of aircraft arriving or departing at the airport.
Flight paths differ for various aircraft types. This is due to the different navigational tools available on jets versus non-jet aircraft, such as turboprops. Helicopters also have different flight paths due to the different ways in which air traffic controllers manage these operations.
Non-jet (turboprop) flight paths
When arriving into Brisbane Airport, non-jet aircraft (or turbo propeller aircraft) fly a range of approaches, including tracking on the jet flight paths or flying a visual approach. This is when a pilot is navigating the aircraft by visual references to the ground and can therefore vary by several kilometres. In terms of departures, non-jet traffic follows a similar path as the jets but tend to turn early off the runway to clear the way for jet traffic behind them. This is to allow for adequate separation between slower and faster aircraft departing from Brisbane Airport.
The below graphics show non-jet arrival and departure tracks.
Flight paths can be depicted as single lines on a map, however it is not always possible for aircraft to follow precisely along the line depicted. This is why flight paths are depicted as ‘swathes’.
In practice, flight paths can vary up to several kilometres or more. This occurs for a range of reasons such as weather conditions, requirements for aircraft separation or variations in aircraft performance.
Some aircraft will use a visual approach when arriving at Brisbane Airport. This approach is when a pilot proceeds by visual reference and therefore this approach can vary by several kilometres.
With the opening of the new runway on Sunday 12 July 2020, Brisbane Airport moved to parallel runway operations. Brisbane Airport has three main modes of operation:
- Simultaneous parallel operations where all flights land over the bay and take off over the city from both runways. This means arrivals and departures on both runways at the same time in a southerly flow of traffic.
- Simultaneous parallel operations where all flights land over the city and take off over the bay from both runways. This means arrivals and departures on both runways at the same time in a northerly flow of traffic.
- Simultaneous opposite direction operations where flights both land and take off over the bay. This is the preferred mode for night time operations.
The decision on mode of operation use is the responsibility of Airservices Australia.
Generally, aircraft departing to or arriving from the west or the north will land and depart on the new runway.
Generally, aircraft departing to or arriving from the south or east will land and depart on the legacy runway.
The decision on mode of operation use is the responsibility of Airservices Australia.
Between 10pm – 6am, the preference is for all overnight arrivals and departures to occur over the bay. This is weather dependent and based on four factors – visibility, cloud cover, wind speed and runway surface conditions.
If over the bay operations are possible, arriving aircraft will land on the new runway and departing aircraft will use the legacy runway. This means that the initial climb and final descent of aircraft will take place over water, rather than residential areas.
If over the bay operations can’t be utilised due to weather conditions, reciprocal operations using either runway will be the next preferred option. This is also weather dependent, with both arriving and departing aircraft using the same or either runway. If over the bay operations are not possible due to weather conditions, a modified version of simultaneous parallel operations based on wind direction will be implemented.
If there are northerly winds, flights will land over the city to the legacy runway and take off over the bay from both runways. If there are southerly winds, flights will land over the bay on both runways and take off over the city from the legacy runway. This maintains consistency with proposed flight paths included in the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).
When aircraft arrive at Brisbane Airport, they can take one of three different approaches. The approach they take will depend on the navigational aids available on that particular aircraft.
The three approaches are:
- Instrument landing system approach (or ILS approach) – this approach requires aircraft to line up with the centreline of the runway approx. 12 nautical miles (approximately 22 kilometres) from landing. It communicates with two pieces of equipment on the ground: the localiser which provides lateral guidance and the glide slope which provides vertical guidance.
- Short approach (or RNP approach) – this approach uses satellite based technology and equipment in the aircraft to safely navigate the aircraft into landing. This does not require communication with any equipment on the ground.
- Visual approach –this approach is conducted when the weather is fine with no low cloud cover and a pilot is operating the aircraft by visual references. This approach can therefore vary by several kilometres.
The choice of which flight path to use can also be influenced by weather conditions, aircraft separation requirements and the concentration of aircraft arriving or departing at the airport.
An arrivals procedure known as ‘Continuous Descent Approaches’ (CDA) will continue to be in operation at Brisbane Airport. CDA involves aircraft maintaining a steady angle of approach until they reach the final approach. The intention of CDA is to reduce arrival noise by:
keeping aircraft higher for longer
smoothing the approach of the aircraft by limiting the use of the throttle to avoid over powering the aircraft engine
In addition, CDA reduces fuel burn and emissions, which leads to an overall environmental benefit.
So that air traffic controllers can direct pilots to the appropriate runway for take-off or landing, runways are always described using two numbers. Each number represents the orientation of the runway on a compass.
Based on compass orientation, Brisbane Airport’s legacy runway is described as 01/19 (010 degrees magnetic / 190 degrees magnetic).
The new runway is parallel to the existing runway and therefore also carries the numbers 01/19. To distinguish between the two, ‘L’ for left and ‘R’ for right has been added to all directions on both runways.
Therefore, the legacy runway is described as 01R/19L and the new runway is described as 01L/19R.
Any aircraft using 01 will either be arriving over the city or taking off over the bay. Any aircraft using 19 will be either arriving over the bay or taking off over the city.
The altitude that an aircraft is flying can vary for a number of reasons, including the size of the aircraft and its destination. A larger, long haul aircraft with a higher fuel load or heavy freight load will depart from an airport at a lower altitude than a smaller, short haul aircraft with a lower fuel load or less freight. For example, an A380 aircraft travelling to Dubai will fly at a lower altitude than a B738 aircraft flying to Sydney.
Due to this variation, altitude can be described as a ‘band’, with a minimum and maximum altitude possible at a particular point of a journey. For example, the ‘cruise’ altitude for a particular route may be between 29,000ft (minimum) and 43,000ft (maximum).
For the purposes of this flight path tool, an average altitude within the middle of the band is displayed. If your selected address is under a legacy or new flight path, data will appear in a pop-up box which includes the average altitude of the aircraft expected above that address.
For more detailed information on flight paths and aircraft noise, please download the Brisbane Airport Flight Path and Noise Information Booklet.