It is a reminder how desperate the Federal Government is to avoid building a second Sydney Airport within Sydney that it refuses to acknowledge that the main reason why people regularly use air travel at all is to save time.

This ‘flaw’ is obvious from today’s SMH report into the selection process.

If the additional trip time involved in using a remote or non-Sydney basin airport exceeds that of reaching the existing airport the passenger market for business related travel will not use the alternative.

If the use of the existing airport becomes so chaotic and congested and ineffective that Sydney becomes notably more costly and frustrating as a place for doing business, those sources of business activity, and their economic benefits, will quit Sydney in favour of alternative places to do business, most likely Melbourne or Brisbane.

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There is an incredibly simplistic view in political circles, and in both government and coalition circles, that somehow the mass market low cost airline passenger can be miraculously persuaded to spent several hours and hundreds of dollars accessing a remote airport, using a high speed rail system which might unfortunately never be built anyhow, thus freeing up Sydney Airport and returning it to its rightful users, the very rich, or politicians and public servants.

There are several problems with these quaint notions. One is that a $90 one way typical discount fare between Sydney and a nearby city is not a low cost fare if several hundred dollars in additional access fees are added to it. Another is that business travel is migrating down market in price because it is being expanded by cadres of business travellers who never previously flew on business trips because that luxury was only affordable with big end of town corporate travel accounts.

Business travel by definition has grown enormously because of lower fares for SME’s, individual professionals and those managing their own travel budgets. Should Sydney become a zone in which small business travel is suppressed?

The contribution of low fare travel to airline and indeed airport viability is critical. Virgin Blue will cease to exist without being an airline that offers a relevant fare to all types of travellers on each departure, and Qantas without lower fare customers, whether on its flights or those of Jetstar, will end up with fractional passengers loads out of Sydney, especially as business activity plummets because the city chokes on its transport infrastructure failings.

The airlines need a significant volume of low fare customers to be viable through Sydney, whether they fly in two brands like Qantas/Jetstar, or one like Virgin Blue.

They need a second airport IN Sydney, and they need it to be properly connected to efficient public and private transport options.

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As a Crikey subscriber I always feel more informed and able to think more critically about issues and current affairs – even when they don’t always reflect my own political viewpoint or lived experience.


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