Oh, the irony. Photo courtesy Sydney Airport
The Liberate Sydney End the Monopoly Airbus. Photo courtesy Sydney Airport

It seems time, and expediency, heals all wounds at Sydney Airport. It has officially endorsed a protest slogan on the side of an airliner, an AirAsia X Airbus A330, eight years after it was lawyers at 10 paces with Virgin Blue, for flying around with an anti-Sydney Airport decal on the sides of one of its Boeing 737s.

Then. In 2002 SACL was trying to renege on a deal with Richard Branson and Brett Godfrey for an agreed lease on the largely derelict Ansett terminal, now T2. The ‘Virgins’ were threatening to make do with, and substantially expand, the nearby ‘shed’ which had been used originally by Impulse and itself, which was completely overrun by passengers to the extent that the floor was visibly flexing under the load.

Branson, no stranger to ‘stunts’, inspired Godfrey and his publicity tactician, David Huttner, to afix ‘what a bunch of bankers‘ decals to one of its 737s, to reinforce its ‘keeping the air fair‘ message, and provide a suitable backdrop for TV interviews.

Now. The Malaysia government is blocking long haul low cost upstart AirAsia X’s request to compete against its older legacy model national flag carrier, Malaysia Airlines, by operating Sydney-Kuala Lumpur.

The CEO of Sydney Airport, Russell Balding, said today:

“Flights by AirAsia X would benefit passengers in both Malaysia and Australia and build tourism and cultural and commercial links in the two countries.

“Fundamentally, airlines should be able to fly where passengers want them to go.

“This is an important principle that Sydney Airport supports. Consumer preference should guide the development of the international aviation market and airlines should be able to operate services in line with passenger demand.

“AirAsia X services from Sydney to Malaysia will provide another choice for passengers to consider and evaluate on price and service.

“The logic of AirAsia X’s case is very strong and I hope that their creative use of signwriting means that we will soon see them flying to Sydney.”

“In the meantime, Sydney Airport will continue to support AirAsia X’s campaign.

By coincidence Sir Richard Branson, who owned half of Virgin Blue when it was fighting with Sydney Airport, now owns 20% of the long haul X part of AirAsia, which has an alliance with Jetstar. (Yes, that is ‘untidy’.)

As ever, there is more to the current situation than meets the eye. Canberra Airport is keen to accommodate AirAsia X and have the customers not only spend more time in the ACT but make ultra cheap three hour bus transfers in the middle of the night to or from their Sydney hotels. Canberra Airport’s owners are acutely aware of the congestion crisis at Sydney Airport, and the growth potential of low cost long haul carriers, and the fact that they have an answer.

And Sydney Airport has long come to its senses over the benefits of low cost passenger volumes, which boost its retail leasing activities, parking revenues, and passenger handling income.

All that is left to happen now is for the State and Federal Governments to similarly adjust their understanding of Sydney’s needs for airport capacity, in (drum roll) Sydney.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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