Sydney prepares for second airport

Sydney prepares for second airport

Leaked documents saying Australian airports are well behind Asian counterparts have led to a political push for a second airport in Sydney
Plane leaves Sydney Airport
A British Airways plane filled with England cricketers leaves Sydney Kingsford-Smith Airport earlier this year.

Julia Gillard’s government is set to nominate 10 potential sites for a second Sydney airport, according to a report in today's "The Sydney Morning Herald."

The news comes in the wake of reports damning major airports across Australia as inadequate.

A survey by Airports Council International leaked yesterday -- and reported by Bloomberg -- ranked Australian airports well down on global lists. Sydney was the best of a bad Australian lot, coming in at number 67.

The list ranked Singapore, Incheon-Soeul and Hong Kong as the top three. Asian airports dominated the top rankings.

What's more, Sydney's airport is not up to the standard of being a gateway to the nation, a separate analysis prepared for the government reveals.

The harsh judgments have apparently spurred the government into action.

“It’s clear Sydney needs a second airport sooner rather than later,” said federal transport minister Anthony Albanese, referencing the call for a second Sydney airport.

A previous proposal for a second Sydney airport at Badgery’s Creek, in the greater west, encountered community backlash -– it’s now deemed unusable -- but Sydney Kingsford-Smith Airport is running at capacity.

Albanese is the local member of inner city Marrickville and surrounds, home of a powerful "anti-aircraft noise" lobby from residents who cop the brunt of a maximum capacity, close-to-city airport.

This is why Sydney's airport carries a curfew and doesn’t operate for larger jets in between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m.

According to an aviation source, this is a major problem as bigger jets are re-directed to Canberra, or even Melbourne, if they arrive even a few minutes late.

Also, according to the source, 6 a.m. becomes a hectic peak-hour on the tarmac as planes line up.

The 17-hour airport is limited to 80 flights an hour on its three runways.

Analysis by Booz & Company, prepared for the government, states that by 2015, if flights were restricted by bad weather in the morning to 55 flights an hour, this would cause ongoing delays of three hours until the afternoon. By 2020, under the current capacity, these delays would increase to five hours.

Sydney Airport is owned by the publicly listed Map Group. The company believes legislative constraints -- limiting the number of flights to 80 an hour -- do not reflect the airport’s infrastructural capacity.

So what’s the problem: legislative or infrastructural constraints?

Transport minister Anthony Albanese says the removal of a curfew or cap -- which would allow more planes to fly over his electorate -- is not the solution. He says the under-performing Sydney airport is stifling "growth in our region... (With) the growing traveling public of China in particular, but also India and other countries."

What is certain is that Sydney will have to accommodate more flights in the next few years -- and even more in the next decade.

It is increasingly likely that a second international airport will arrive.

But where?

Of current infrastructure, a military base lies at Holsworthy in the city’s southwest and an air force base at Richmond in the northwest. Some are even talking of utilizing Newcastle Airport, 150 kilometers north, linked to Sydney by fast train.

Newly elected premier Barry O’Farrell told the ABC today that he supports a fast train link to Canberra to link with the airport there -- though what politician doesn't lobby for faster transport to Canberra?

Alternately, an entirely new airport could be planned as early as this year.