Airport debate heats up

Airport debate heats up
By admin

Industry experts have slammed the complacency over the development of a second airport for Sydney as they argued self-serving political motives are hindering progress in addressing the city's burgeoning aviation needs.

Speaking at a Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) forum in Sydney this week, CAPA Centre for Aviation executive chairman Peter Harbison, stressed that almost half a century has passed since conversations began over a suitable site for a second Sydney airport began – and yet time has yielded no solution.

Concerns over additional noise pollution resulting from a second airport have little weight given that the current airport itself generates few compaints on that front, according to Harbison. Of the average 2,500 complaints a month, the majority are generated by just a handful of people with just seven people complaining each day.

"Where you expect the complaints to be made, there are almost none," he said.

But the construction of a second airport throws up a number of other issues, not least who will foot the bill. Then there are the logistical challenges of relocating airlines, aircraft and personnel, which also carry a price tag.

Harbison projected that funding will in "no way" come from the government, although it may fork out for some of the supporting infrastructure required. Sydney Airport too might be reluctant to go through the "hassle" of building a new facility. The incumbent airlines also have little incentive to open up competition further, or to pay for an airport that will be used by its rivals. Many of them will be reluctant to relocate their operations, he added.

But the arguments for a new airport are compelling, Harbison insisted. It would create jobs and economic benefits for the local community and Australia as a whole, and will help cater to Sydney's growing aviation needs. Estimates forecast capacity will rise to 165 million passenger movements by 2060.

"It's public interest versus political self-interest," he summarised. "We do need capacity, we do need someone to bite the bullet and do something."

However, until things start to move, he recommended a number of short term measures to ease the situation such as an increase in the movement cap from 80 to between 85 and 90, and the ditching of 15 minute spacing.

Sydney Airport Corporations executive director of aviation services, Shelley Roberts, agreed that such "very small changes" could significantly grow the capacity at the airport in its current format.

"Clearly a site does need to be identified but that is a matter for government," Roberts told the PATA forum. "Developing a second airport prematurely would be a significant cost and would not achieve any of the objectives."

Instead she urged the government to change some of its governing policies on the back of changing dynamics. For example, peak times are no longer as busy as they once were due to the use of larger aircraft, and a rising number of carriers now prefer to fly in at different times of the day due to onward connections.

"I'm not suggesting we repeal the curfew, but I am suggesting we restore shoulder periods," Roberts said. By doing so, it would open up Sydney to improved connection times with Asian carriers who are instead opting to fly to Melbourne.

In addition, plans to integrate international and domestic services into the same terminal will streamline operations, she said, with implementation of plans to ease congestion around the airport also critical.

Above all, she called for informed debate in the industry based on facts rather than politics.

Meanwhile, Tourism Australia managing director, Andrew McEvoy, underlined the need to make the facts "more tangible" to drive public engagement with the issues.

"The industry talks a lot in riddles," he said. "We need to be better at bringing these things to life."

But action needs to be taken quickly, PATA chief executive Martin Craigs added as he emphasised the need to "apply the heat" warning of the dangers of complacency in a globalised economy. While places like Abu Dhabi and Hong Kong forge ahead with the development of their aviation sectors, Australia risks being left behind.

"You can't skip out of the race," he warned. "Globalisation isn't going to slow down".



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