It hasn’t taken long for the renewed debate over a 2nd airport for Sydney to take a comic break,  provided by the National Party leader Warren Truss,  saying that country flights should be squeezed out of Sydney by larger jets.

What was he thinking? Truss is supposed to represent a rural constituency.

This is what he said on Sydney radio station 2GB yesterday:

We can make better use of the existing time slots without altering the number of aircraft movements, put in bigger aircraft into Sydney, make better use of other cities like Melbourne, Perth, Brisbane, Newcastle and Canberra as hubs.

Of course the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, Anthony Albanese, had Truss on toast for breakfast this morning.

Regional airlines hold about a quarter of the slots between 7am and 9am. These airlines use smaller aircraft such as the 34-seater Saab 340s (Rex Airlines) and the 30-seater BAE Jetstream J41s (Brindabella).

But according to Mr Truss these smaller planes should make way for the bigger jets operated by major international or domestic airlines.

This is a truly bizarre proposition from a party which claims to represent Regional Australia.  The National Party is simply out of touch.

Truss should explain to the people and businesses of regional Australia why he wants to make it harder to fly to Sydney, and for tourists and business travellers to reach regional destinations like Ballina, Wagga Wagga, and Port Macquarie.”

Plane Talking asked Truss’s office to extricate him,  without response. Perhaps they are too busy looking for his brain.

Not that Albanese gets off lightly either. His comments this morning confirm that the rural access guarantees made by the previous coalition government with Truss’s support will be continued by Labor, which in the absence of a miracle at Sydney Airport means that it is totally stuffed, literally, for as far ahead as we can dare look.

At the time Truss was vigorously supporting the very rural access he now wants to chop Albanese was on the opposition benches, fiercely promoting the building of the 2nd Sydney Airport at the Badgery’s Creek site he has now ruled out of consideration.

This is probably because Labor has promised not to build an airport at Badgery’s Creek for the last three federal election campaigns,  but it is worth keeping in mind that this is a government, like its predecessor, which can sink a promise without trace in minutes.

While Truss and Albanese were doing a Punch ‘n Judy routine this morning, the new NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell was giving interviews urging the replacement of the need for a 2nd Sydney Airport with an east coast fast rail network, a position guaranteed to doom Sydney to severe decline, since it needs both, and it needs the airport even sooner,  which is also the engineering reality if nothing else.

Linking them is like combining the quest for the impossible with the pursuit of the eternal.

There is no argument that the airport solution needs to be integrated into the rail solution (or a special high speed bus road) but asking them to actually get funded and built at the same time is an ask way beyond the boundaries of plausibility in NSW,  which can’t even render a toy scaled city underground railway functional.

It is worth asking why has this debate suddenly reignited?

Probably because Albanese, who threw the match into the dry paddock with an item in the SMH on Monday, knows that when the joint and independent Federal State committee inquiry into a second Sydney Airport option reports in the second half the year,  the public needs to have been engaged by the seriousness of the issues well in advance.

And they are serious, despite this morning’s antics.

We already know the committee, which bravely contains no political figures,  is considering a site not in the Sydney basin, but close to it,  just north of the upper north shore, somewhere in the central coast, as well as further afield, almost certainly including the Illawarra, southern highlands, and maybe, just maybe, the other Sydney basin options mentioned here yesterday.

And it has not been officially ruled out that the committee will find there are NO practicable sites outside the Sydney basin, which means that if the government were to hold firm on no Badgery’s Creek runway,  Sydney’s future as a centre for business reliant on good air transport links is one of terminal decline.

It is important to remember that there is a separate two part rail corridor investigation under way.

This is how Albanese summarised them at a media conference on Tuesday.

The high-speed rail study is being undertaken separately by private sector – we went through a tendering process.  Private sector is looking at that – certainly in terms of that study – it’s looking at receiving it in two parts.  The first part in July; the second part the following July.  So the first part will look at routes, preliminary costings.  The second part will go into the detailed work that hasn’t been done on high-speed rail which is all the geotechnical work.

We know that from Sydney to Newcastle would be the first stage of an east-coast high-speed rail network is what they’re looking at and we know that the cost particularly of Sydney to Newcastle just due to the geography and the topography are difficult, is a challenge.

They’re looking at those issues, but there’s no cross membership of the two exercises.  Clearly both those reports will be supplied to the government.

Update 1.56 pm, Truss really meant little planes are good too

The shadow transport minister and Leader of the Country Party, Warren Truss  has issued this statement:

SHADOW Minister for Infrastructure and Transport Warren Truss has dismissed as “pathetic” attempts today by Federal Transport Minister Anthony Albanese to cast doubt over regional flight access to Sydney Airport under a Coalition Government.“I would remind Mr Albanese of what he knows well; it was the Coalition that legislated to guarantee reserved slots for regional aircraft at Sydney Airport,” Mr Truss said. “That commitment remains sacrosanct.”

Regional passengers will not suffer any diminution of access under a Coalition Government. Indeed, we expect Sydney Airport to receive more passengers from regional areas in the years ahead.

What I said yesterday, and reaffirm today, is that greater use of Sydney Airport can be achieved without compromising that commitment. We are also committed to maintaining the movement cap and the existing curfew.

For example, larger aircraft, such as the A380, carry many more people per flight, as do the Q400s used by regional carriers. Boeing 787 and A330 aircraft will be replacing smaller aircraft on high density domestic routes. As airlines boost their fleets with larger planes we can achieve much higher passenger volumes though Sydney.

Further, many international flights currently use Sydney as a hub, with many passengers; final destinations being in other parts of the country. More direct services to Melbourne, Brisbane, Canberra, Newcastle, etc., will take pressure off the growth in Sydney.

Yesterday’s Booz and Company report is out of step with other recent studies into the capacity of Sydney Airport. These reports, including the Airport’s Master Plan, say Sydney Airport will not reach its maximum capacity for at least 20 years.

Labor purchased and then abandoned the Badgerys Creek site, and has now commissioned yet another report into alternative sites. Many of the sites under consideration are the very same sites we examined in government and found to be unsuitable.

Mr Albanese is now considering sites more than 100km out of Sydney. Interstate and regional passengers will not want to land two-hours drive from Sydney, especially if they are going to Sydney for business or a medical emergency.