At least 250,000 vehicles will drive close to the preserved site of Sydney’s second jet airport at Badgery’s Creek today along the M4 and M7 motorways. They will do so with less inconvenience than anyone driving within 20 kilometres of Sydney’s existing airport.  And they will have done something the Sydney media, and most politicians, twist and turn to avoid mentioning in any comments about the impending implosion of infrastructure at the main airport, because the obvious Badgery’s Creek solution equals political suicide.

But then again, so do all of the options, from doing bugger all, to throwing open Richmond and Bankstown to jet flights as Infrastructure Minister Anthony Albanese has signalled as possible answers in his courageous plan to formulate a comprehensive aviation policy for Australia by March next year.

Several important signs of change have occurred. In the space of a few months Albanese has ruled out but then ruled in possible flights to the two suburban airfields. In that same interval Tiger has ordered a lightweight version of the Airbus A319, in a roomy 144 seat version that could actually fly useful distances from either Bankstown or Richmond, which suffer from short runways. And for the first time Qantas, through its executive general manager John Borghetti, referred to an urgent need for a second airport in the Sydney basin.

This is a sharp U-turn by Qantas. It has always held to the line that another Sydney Airport is unnecessary. Now it is sending a signal that the existing airport is “stuffed”. Borghetti’s other signal is the phrase “in the Sydney basin” used in his call for action at this week’s aviation infrastructure summit.

Ask any international or domestic airline manager what they think about a second Sydney Airport at Goulburn, or Newcastle, or Alice Springs, and they will point out that even if they were miraculously connected for free with space age maglev railways costing a trillion dollars, no-one flying to Sydney would use them. Air travel is about trip times more than anything else. It isn’t about fighting one’s way to a central rail terminal to then spend a few hours, or half a day in total, getting to an airport in Whoop-whoop.

Without adequate air links Sydney will bleed economic activity to Brisbane and Melbourne, which it is already.

A top level Qantas manager last week told the chief executive of Airbus, Tom Enders, that Sydney Airport is half the land area of any other airport taking a current 30 million passengers a year, and when that reaches a forecast 70 million in less than 20 years it won’t even have room to short term park the dozens of 500 passenger A380s that will be trying to use it each day.

Of course that raises the other political unmentionable in the Sydney Airport saga. All of the space it needs can be found on the southern shore of Botany Bay.

Between now and next March another notion might take root in the rest of Australia; that the solution to all of Sydney’s woeful transport problems is to let it choke on the consequences of 100 years of wilful neglect, rather than bankrupt the country subsidising the solutions.

Get more Crikey, for less

It’s more than a newsletter. It’s where readers expect more – fearless journalism from a truly independent perspective. We don’t pander to anyone’s party biases. We question everything, explore the uncomfortable and dig deeper.

Join us this week for 50% off a year of Crikey.

Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
50% off