For double talk today’s story on a 2nd Sydney Airport in the Sydney Morning Herald is among the finest.

In it the Federal Transport and Infrastructure Minister, Anthony Albanese, lucidly points to the imperative of a second airport for the city, cutting through the evasions that characterise the official Sydney Airport monopoly position, and continues to rule out building on the site Federal Labor chose in 1985.

Yet before he came to government and cabinet, Albanese was also the most focused and carefully argued proponent of building the badly needed 2nd airport at Badgerys Creek, which is now superbly well located in terms of easy linkage to the motorway network, and could be linked to the city rail network through straightforward surface lines to Parramatta on one side and to the airport line, on the other side of the site, by exploiting the work already underway to improve the south western rail services.

Is this just another example of Labor incompetency, like the $500 million the disgraced former NSW Premier Kristina Keneally wantonly blew on a metro line that did nothing in its failure apart from enrich consultants and destroy the last molecules of credibility in state Labor?

Personally, I think Albanese is anything but a fool. But the question is, why does he play the fool? On the public record Albanese was in opposition acutely aware of the fact that a commute to a remote Sydney Airport site, one that is as far if not further away than some of the country flights that actually clog up Sydney Airport, is a total nonsense.

It would destroy Sydney’s credentials as a convenient base for businesses that generate large amounts of corporate flying (but also these days, gravitate to lower fares and lower cost carriers) and cripple its attractions to mass tourism operators by eating into their margins with coach or rail connections.

The issue has been blended into the need for vastly improved and fast, if not ultra fast rail corridors, which sadly, may actually work against fast rail by causing even more delays in getting down to business about establishing those services, by  locking them into the eternal quest for a solution to Sydney’s airport problems.

There is one incredibly expensive alternative within the Sydney basin to using the site already preserved at Badgery’s Creek, which is to broad bridge on pylons the canyons that cross the southerly reaches of the Holsworthy military reserve. And there is a very smart way of building at least a supplementary runway on the southern shores of Botany Bay, to the west of Kurnell, and linking the Cronulla-Sutherland peninsula to La Perouse  by tunnel in the process of making it accessible to the main airport. (Such a link is inevitable, potentially offering a rail link to the city via the eastern suburbs as well as a road link, no matter what happens in terms of additional airport capacity.)

And there is a limited potential to run flights through the somewhat constrained Richmond Air Force base site. But for a straighforward solution, and at lowest possible cost, there is room for a single long runway at Badgery’s Creek that could be made available to the latest lowest noise producing airliner types that would even with a curfew lift traffic capacity in terms of arrivals and departures by 50 percent, and deliver wider public transport dividends in the process.

Albanese knows this. He has said this. Why doesn’t he do it?

If we are fortunate, Albanese is setting up a situation where Badgery’s Creek would have to proceed, or the future of Sydney as a major centre for commerce is declared to be permanently circumscribed by its chronic infrastructure failures.

Update: Sydney Airport calls for movement cap to be lifted

The owners of Sydney Airport insist that the current airport is all that Sydney needs provided the capacity restrictions that prevent more than 80 arrivals or departures an hour are removed.

This long building collision between the owners of a government mandated monopoly over airport facilities in the Sydney Basin, and the government of the day trying to prevent Sydney Airport from seizing up illustrates what happens when a previous government makes policy based entirely on grabbing a hefty sale price for public assets and leaves its successors to deal with the consequences.

This is the Sydney Airport statement issued this morning:

“The Australian Government approved Sydney Airport’s Master Plan in 2009.  The Master Plan shows that Sydney Airport will manage forecast traffic at least till 2029.

“The 80 movements per hour cap is an arbitrary regulatory cap that does not reflect the actual capacity of the existing infrastructure at Sydney Airport.

“Whilst the Master Plan demonstrates that Sydney Airport is able to meet demand until at least 2029, it is in the interests of Australia that the most efficient use is made of the nation’s most important aviation infrastructure.

“Given the advent of quieter aircraft, Sydney Airport’s submission to the Productivity Commission will argue that the artificial constraints in place at Sydney Airport be reviewed to ensure that the Government’s overall objectives are being met, balancing the interests of all stakeholders.  This will also remove the need for the government to spend substantial taxpayer funds to construct additional aviation capacity elsewhere.”

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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