The Aviation White Paper out today has some bizarre policy contrasts.

Travellers will be able to take knitting needles and nail files on board jets, but not fly into a second major Sydney airport that is actually in Sydney ever.

While urban development has compromised the site reserved at Badgery’s Creek for a second airport in Sydney’s west to such an extent it will be sold,  there will be an evaluation of the possible use by airlines of the Richmond RAAF base, which is sandwiched between two townships and heritage-listed buildings.

Brisbane Airport’s success is such that imposing a night jet curfew on its operations will be examined (something vigorously championed by Kevin Rudd in his nearby electorate before becoming PM).

This has already caused Brisbane Airport’s owners to demand that Melbourne Airport also cop a curfew out of fairness should this actually happen.

And the White Paper makes a glancing reference to not letting inappropriate developments affect airports on the same morning the Infrastructure and Transport Minister, Anthony Albanese, is on the front page of The Canberra Times expressing disapproval of the Tralee housing project, which would also cause a night curfew at Canberra Airport and divert noisy jets over more of its suburbs by day.

Foreign airlines or other offshore investors will be allowed to own up to 49% of Qantas, putting it on the same level for equity raisings as Virgin Blue in terms of the ownership limits on an Australian flag carrier on international routes.

But other Australian airlines besides Qantas will be considered for more flexible ownership structures within open-air travel markets. Australia may negotiate with like-minded states as the world moves toward global rationalisation of carriers.

There will be a crackdown on the employment of criminals in airport security services, or in baggage handling or in cargo agencies.

There will be a crackdown on sharp practices by airlines concerning prices and charges, and an airline ombudsman will become a last resort for consumer complaints while the airlines will have to develop corporate charters defining how they will deal with unhappy customers.

There’s a lot of bricks-and-mortar reform of the aviation environment in the White Paper that most of the sectors will welcome as long overdue.

But on the loud button political issues of Sydney’s airport needs,  it does nothing to relieve noise at the main airport, blocks the only large site for a second airport, announces yet another panel to investigate a Sydney “region” airport that the airlines are resisting, and ensures that the 50-year-old battle over airport congestion will continue to be a blood sport for as far ahead as any one can see.

Peter Fray

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