Emirates has become the first airline to be charged with breaching the overnight curfew on flights at Sydney Airport since Jetstar was prosecuted six years ago.
After an investigation, the Department of Infrastructure and Transport has decided to push for charges to be laid against the Dubai-based airline for three alleged breaches of the curfew between late 2011 and January this year.
The airline faces a maximum fine of $550,000 for each breach of the curfew, which is designed to prevent commercial airlines from flying between 11pm and 6am at Kingsford Smith.
The department alleges that the most recent breach occurred on January 8 when Emirates flight EK413 took off from the airport bound for Dubai about 11.40pm – 40 minutes after the curfew takes effect.
The latest an Emirates flight – EK413 – is alleged to have taken off is about 11.46pm on December 16, 2011.
The other charge relates to an alleged breach by flight EK419 about 11.14pm on November 8, 2011.
Emirates is yet to enter a plea in the case, which is before the Downing Centre Local Court in Sydney.
Lawyers for the airline sought more time on Tuesday to prepare its response because of the large amount of paperwork, which includes transcripts of the three flights.
The case was scheduled for a hearing on December 17.
The charges were laid just before the federal election in September when Anthony Albanese was still the federal transport minister.
Mr Albanese, whose inner-city electorate of Grayndler is under one of Sydney Airport's flight paths, maintained this year that the curfew was a legal requirement that needed to be enforced.
Jetstar was the last airline to be prosecuted for breaching the curfew in 2007 when a flight took off at 11.28pm.
Under the existing rules, no more than 24 international passenger aircraft are allowed to land each week in the so-called "curfew shoulder periods" between 5am and 6am, and 11pm and midnight.
A number of small freight and corporate jets are allowed to land and take off during the curfew period. These aircraft have to take off and land over Botany Bay to minimise noise disturbance.
NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell has proposed allowing more aircraft to land in the shoulder periods to make better use of the existing airport.
Before it won government in September, the federal Coalition also proposed a rethink on allowing business and charter aircraft to take off and land during the present overnight curfew.