It speaks much for the centre of growth and vision in this country to compare the political difficulties that arise over plans for a 2nd Sydney Airport, and the general enthusiasm for a 3rd Melbourne Airport.

The push for the selection and preservation of a new airport site for greater Melbourne announced today reflects the drive and opportunity that exists in Victoria when it comes to looking at the future.

Even Melbourne’s 2nd airport, at Avalon, is in favor of the notion!

While Sydney chokes, Melbourne looks at its wide open spaces and says “Why not?”

It doesn’t cost all that much to plan and acquire a new future Melbourne site given the amenable topography of Victoria’s capital, and its plans to take what Sydney thinks belong to it.  The Sydney 2nd airport quest has in fact soft launched a Nepean option right beside Badgery’s Creek, the site chosen, in 1986, and subsequently downsized and with all work ‘suspended in order to fast track it‘ by federal Labor in 1995.

Sydney began its search for a second airport sit before World War II, when for a while the Rosehill Racecourse area was the favorite.  After the war ended Towra Point Botany Bay with an integrated flying boat terminal was looking good, then air transport changed somewhat, and Galston Gorge was chosen by Charlie Jones, the Whitlam government transport minister.

The Melbourne quest is a reminder that the cities with convenient air access, and efficient maritime and surface freight facilities, are going to win the competition to keep or acquire enterprises that generate lots of air travel, jobs, and state revenues.

In that sense Brisbane is the natural enemy of Melbourne’s determination to eclipse Sydney as the major gateway and economic power house of the eastern half of the continent.

The obvious site for a 2nd Brisbane Airport is the semi-mythic Jacob’s Well site north of the main Gold Coast strip. It makes sense, plans exist, and nothing much seems to get said about it, but it should also be added that the existing Gold Coast Airport is a victim of its own success within a tightly confined site, and perhaps, looking ahead, its owners might cash in on a fantastic real estate opportunity as part of new Gold Coast/Brisbane airport development.  (Just thinking aloud.)

Such a development in a far larger Brisbane/Gold Coast economy doesn’t really threaten the main Brisbane Airport, bearing in mind the situation that would arise if a Mega-Brisbane feeds on the same growth that Melbourne sees as lifting its population to more than 7 million by 2050 or soon after, including those activities that quit Sydney as a response to its seemingly insoluble infrastructure problems.

Of course there are other constraints and challenges too. Starting with water supplies, serious efforts to tap the main renewable of solar energy in future planning, and the avoidance of excessive reliance on private vehicles to serve commuting, all factors that will have to deal with workplace and lifestyle changes we fail to consider at peril to our future regenerations.

But growth does require more airport capacity than the current airports at Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney are plausibly going to accommodate even if as predicted, air traffic growth slows markedly after 2030. It is the same issue that arises in high speed rail.  The essential corridors and growth scenarios need definition and preservation now. And in some cases, need a start to construction, such as between Sydney and Newcastle, and arguably, some strategic tunnels to straighten out the rail access through the Illawarra escarpment, or the doing of something innovative between Campbelltown and Wollongong, roughly along the line of the partly built coal train route.

Transport infrastructure will be the key to the relative fortunes of the eastern cities in the first half of this century.  Melbourne has shown its hand.