Somehow in the 30 years since Badgerys Creek was selected as the site for a second Sydney airport, no one noticed that it could be a 24-hour curfew-free operation as well as one where no jets need to fly over any densely populated suburbs for tens of kilometres in any direction.
The blindingly obvious reason — that there are no such concentrations of housing beyond its south-western corner, and never will be — have now made its geographical versatility a clever Labor wedge in the upcoming electoral battle for crucial and change-prone western Sydney seats like Lindsay, Macarthur, McMahon, Chifley, Parramatta and Greenway.
Jets using the long Badgerys Creek runways to or from the south-west late at night or before dawn would pass over the Nepean River and beyond it a southern Blue Mountains wilderness, which includes the Warragamba Dam. And this is at speeds and altitudes that make such operations safe for the tens of thousands of modern jets that fly over similar terrain every day in operations worldwide.
Labor has done nothing more than seize upon the unrealised reality of the Badgerys Creek site before the Coalition could have done precisely the same thing and declared that the airport would make everyone dance in the streets with happiness because of a 24-hour airport that no one would ever hear at night.
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But back to Earth. The political realities of a Sydney west airport have changed radically in the last 10 years or so. The open spaces that made the original Labor plan of the mid-’80s seem far fetched began to fill with suburbs, and traffic congestion around Sydney’s existing eastern airport began to strangle the city.
The lure of tens of thousands of airport-dependent jobs being created in the western hemisphere of the Sydney sprawl overpowered the political value of being against a second Sydney airport. The inherent limitations of the main airport have become recognised as threatening the future of Sydney and the NSW economy.
The ridiculous airport dreamings of the ’80s had become priority infrastructure goals. A 24-hour airport for Sydney’s west has become a bipartisan objective, no doubt with faux outrage and posturing over manufactured differences in fine detail between Labor and the Coalition.
The country’s second and third largest airports, in Melbourne and Brisbane, have been curfew-free since they were built. Hardly anything moves at either in the middle of the night, so the prospect of unheard jets cramming the skies south-west of Badgerys Creek between 11pm and 6am are slight. There could be some midnight departures for flights to Europe via the Middle East hubs, and some Asian leisure operators would come and go in those hours.
But such a trend has yet to eventuate in Melbourne, Brisbane or even Canberra, which gets Singapore Airlines services later this year.
The risks of the inaudible happening over unpopulated areas because of Badgerys Creek is itself implausible.
- *For more from Ben Sandilands visit Crikey blog Plane Talking