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Essendon Airport's owners want to narrow its runways by repainting them in order to put new commercial buildings around the airfield, a plan which a peak pilots' body has warned would compromise safety.
The airport is owned by the families of rich-listers Lindsay Fox and Max Beck and its latest master plan reveals a desire to develop retail buildings and officesnext to the Tullamarine Freeway, mirroring where the DFO shopping centre sits today.
Essendon Airport has proposed downgrading its main runway and building more retail and office space. CREDIT:JOE ARMAO
The plan proposes painting new lines on runways to reduce their technical width from 45 metres to 30 metres, and downgrading the main runway from "code 4" to "code 3", meaning operators of some larger aircraft would need additional accreditation to use it.
The Australian Airline Pilots’ Association, a union-aligned group that represents pilots on safety matters, says the plan reduces safety margins in the event of a plane going off the runway.
"The proposal ... will reduce the airport's viability as an aviation precinct and more importantly, increase the risk to aircraft operators, passengers and the general public," the association will say in its submission to a public consultation process for the plans.
"In our opinion, approval processes have been abused or ignored to promote non-aviation property uses at the expense of safety for aviation operations."
The association said the pitch to narrow the runways was to make it possible to construct more buildings closer to them.
A spokesman for Essendon Airport said that "the runway characteristics of the new master plan do not in any way reduce safety at Essendon Fields Airport".
"Safety is always the number one priority in our airport operations," he said.
The planning of buildings around Essendon Airport has been in the spotlight since the February 2017 crash of a Beechcraft King Air light aircraft into the side of the DFO building. All five people on board were killed.
This article first appeared on www.theage.com.au
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