The CAA is responsible for the investigation of aviation accidents[1], incidents[2], occurrences, and ARCs to understand what occurred, why, and the implications for ongoing safety of the aviation system.

The CAA currently receives between 500-800 ARCs per year and over 9,500 occurrences.[3]

Commonly, these complaints may relate to alleged breaches of the Civil Aviation Act 1990 and Civil Aviation Rules (the CAR).

The CAA is committed to investigating complaints (ARCs) relating to aviation safety. However, it does not have unlimited resources to do so and must carefully judge how it can best respond to each matter.

ARCs received are by the inwards safety information team, and commonly relate to issues of drones, low-flying, noise or chemical overspray. All ARCs are entered into the system and acknowledged to the complainant. They are first evaluated to determine if:

  • This is a CAA matter, or relevant to another organisation; and
  • Whether the operator is identifiable.

Subject to those criteria, the ARCs are then referred to our investigations team for further consideration.

At this point, the following will be considered:

  1. Whether sufficient supporting information and evidence has been provided to progress the matter so that the CAA can establish if there is a likely breach of the Act or the CAR, and if so, what is the appropriate next step.

    In general, this information is expected to be provided by a person who has first-hand knowledge of the issue in question through having witnessed the event in question. It is unlikely the CAA will investigate matters that are not based on first-hand knowledge.

  2. If insufficient information is provided, then it will be open to the CAA to:
    • close the complaint on that basis and advise the complainant, or
    • seek further information from the complainant that may enable the matter to progress; or
    • determine whether the factors disclosed by the complaint justify the CAA making its own further enquiries before concluding the matter.

If there is sufficient information and the matter warrants an investigation, then ARCs may be further investigated.

The CAA requires a degree of specificity about who, when and where a possible breach may have occurred, along with details about why the actions complained about indicate to the complainant that there may be a breach of the Act or CAR.

When making a complaint to the CAA, the provision of the following information will almost always be necessary for your complaint to be progressed:

  • Registration of the aircraft in question. This is so the CAA can identify the aircraft operator and the pilot in command to make further enquiries if it is necessary to do so. If that is not possible, then a detailed description of the plane’s characteristics should be provided;

  • Flight information regarding the location, height and path of the plane where this can be obtained. For this purpose, the CAA notes that a free app, FlightRadar24 often provides this information. Where a complainant cannot provide this information then it is helpful to advise why it isn’t possible, and what other options you have tried to get this information (e.g. contact with local operators to establish if the flights you witnessed were operated by them or not);

  • When the flight took place – in general, the CAA will not investigate matters more than 3 months old unless there are extenuating circumstances;

  • Photographic or video recordings (not using zoom features on video or photo devices, as these distort distance observations) that shows the aircraft and includes a reference point that may help assess height;

  • Description of the activity that you are complaining about, and why this activity has caused you concern;

  • Any other evidence or information that assists in establishing that a breach or offence has occurred, or which supports the complaint you are making.

It is important to note that in most cases, the CAA will need to identify an operator in order to take complaints further. Without an identified operator, the CAA has no focus for its inquiries, nor does it have a way of making the person or persons who have allegedly breached the Act or CAR aware of the complaint. Lack of an identified operator also means the CAA cannot engage in a meaningful way with the operator about an appropriate response, so complainants should endeavour to provide as much identifying information as possible.

In some cases, the CAA receives multiple complaints on the same matter. However, the complainant is unable to provide sufficient identifying information on the complaint for the CAA to progress the matter.  If the CAA has responded on this matter in the past, and further complaints are made on the same basis, then the CAA will refer to its previous responses and close the complaint on that basis.

However, it is always open to complainants to provide additional and new information that can enable the CAA to further consider the matter.

The CAA holds a designation to investigate complaints under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 (HSWA) and is the lead agency for investigating matters under HSWA that relate to when an aircraft is being prepared for imminent flight, is in use as a workplace, or is in flight.[4]

Status of noise complaints

Section 97(2) of the Civil Aviation Act 1990 provides that no action may be brought in nuisance or trespass for complaints relating to aircraft flying over property if that aircraft was flying at a reasonable height and was complying with the Civil Aviation Act and CAR.  This includes noise complaints, which are a form of nuisance. 

Complaints about noise to the CAA

If a noise complaint is made, the CAA will first need to establish whether the aircraft was i) flying lawfully, and ii)  at a reasonable height.  If the aircraft was not compliant with the Civil Aviation Act or CAR, then the CAA may review the non-compliance aspects further.

If, however, the aircraft’s height is determined to have been lawful and, then without any further information the CAA will have no basis on which to act in respect of the noise complaint.

If the complaint is that the aircraft noise may be creating a risk of harm to health and safety, then this will need to be clearly specified as the reason for your complaint.

Complainants will need to set out:

i) The actions of the operator that is being complaining about;

ii) The reasons why it is considered health and safety is at risk from the aircraft noise;  and

iii) How this harm is linked to the actions of the operator.

Complaints may also include:

  • How the noise has been monitored or measured (e.g. the noise levels or other characteristics, such as frequency and duration);
  • Any additional information that supports the effect of noise is causing a risk of harm; and
  • Any other information you consider relevant.

At that point, the CAA will consider what, if any further action it will take.

Other HSWA complaints

If a complaint is made under HSWA for any additional reason, then complaint will again need to set out the information in i) to iii) above.

The CAA plans to annually review the body of complaints received (both complaints that are closed and complaints that are investigated) to ensure that the CAA has good oversight of what is occurring in problem areas throughout the country.

This will enable the CAA to inform relevant industry bodies and operators about the issues that may be concerning to residents, to support them to take action, and to ensure that their own policies and procedures are being effective. 

[1] Refer to Civil Aviation Act 1990 definition
[2] Refer to Civil Aviation Act 1990 definition
[3] An occurrence is an accident or incident that is required by the CAR to be notified to the CAA. An ARC is a voluntary reporting of a matters that are not accidents or incidents.
[4] Health and safety CAA designation