Until they saw the lead story in today’s business section, most SMH readers probably hadn’t heard of Etihad Airways, but it’s decision to choose Sydney as its Australian port of call has been enough to send the Brisbane and Melbourne Airports running off to lobby for Emirates to get more flights to Australia.

Correction – more flights to Brisbane and Melbourne.

Despite higher passenger numbers, the airports that have been asked to be treated like country towns are complaining that Sydney is eating their lunch with its increasing international market share and that the federal government attitude isn’t helping.

Which brings to mind an unproven and unprovable story going round in some airline circles. Back when Singapore Airlines was trying hard to get access to the Sydney-US route, it was suggested it might have more luck trying for the US out of Brisbane instead. At that time, Qantas wasn’t flying Brisbane-US direct.

There were allegedly two things wrong with the suggestion. Firstly, there wasn’t enough load up the front of the plane to justify the route – Queensland is all very nice but it remains mainly tourist class, the suites still fly south. Secondly, Max Moore-Wilton said he wouldn’t allow it.

Max the Axe used to run the federal government for John Howard and it seems he still has plenty of power in Canberra while running Sydney Airport instead. It’s probably why Macquarie Bank hired him.

The story goes that Max threatened all manner of things if government policy forced a major international airline away from using Sydney Airport.

Of course this is only a story, barely a rumour even. Yesterday Max was in Canberra verbally kicking the heads of anyone opposed to Macquarie turning Sydney Airport into Aerotropolis and defending the current planning procedure which leaves all such decisions in the hands of the federal government.

The speech was previewed in the SMH but unfortunately not followed today and the AFR coverage isn’t online.

Bet the planning powers remain in Canberra’s hands and Sydney gets its Aerotropolis.

Peter Fray

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