After decades of inaction by Labor and coalition governments it took Tony Abbott to do some plane talking.
The prime minister put the second Sydney airport decision in a nutshell when he said: “There has been too much studying and too little deciding.”
When the NSW government began thinking about a second Sydney airport in 1964, the Beatles had eight number one singles, EH Holden cars were the rage and Tony Abbott was in short pants at St Aloysius College, Milson’s Point.
The federal government first took a look at it in 1969.
While the initial construction phase is expected to generate about 4000 jobs, the airport development is expected to create 35,000 jobs by 2035, increasing to 60,000 jobs over time.
By 2060, the new airport has the potential to drive an increase in Australian gross domestic product of almost $24 billion.
According to Sky News, the cost of building the airport is estimated at $2.5 billion, with construction due to begin in 2016.
Head of the aviation program at Central Queensland University Ron Bishop said the new airport is “a good step in the right direction.”
Less overcrowding at Sydney Airport
Central Queensland University’s Ron Bishop said that Badgerys Creek would “definitely lower the strain on the main Sydney airport.”
“Sydney just scored the lowest of all of Australia for airports, and one of the reasons was getting in and out on the groundside,” Mr Bishop said. “I could see this being a good option to alleviate the big problem of overcrowding at the Sydney airport.”
The host site, Badgerys Creek, is not without its political problems but they will be manageable. The key will be how Labor decides to roll with it.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has previously signalled agreement with the site, but he will face pressure from western Sydney MPs to put conditions on that support.
They could include pushing for a curfew and guarantees that traffic congestion will be properly addressed.
Labor MP Ed Husic was quick to tweet that Abbott promised from opposition in January 2013: “The coalition has absolutely no plans for a second airport at Badgerys Creek.”
Given the long lead-up time before any aircraft will take off, bipartisan support is crucial for the airport’s success.
Due to problems with noise pollution, the Kingsford-Smith airport has a no-fly curfew between 11pm and 6am.
Central Queensland University’s Ron Bishop said that, if modern sound-minimisation technology is used to its full potential, noise will be much less of a problem at Badgerys Creek.
“Our technology now in sound is amazing, whereas back when they started the Sydney airport almost 100 years ago they weren’t thinking about sound. It was just a flat piece of farm land then,” Mr Bishop said.
Aviation industry expert Neil Hansford didn’t believe the government was ambitious enough with its plan.
“I think the parameter is a bit low,” Mr Hansford said. “They should be looking to have the Badgerys Creek master plan as making it the airport for Sydney going into the next 40 to 50 years, rather than a support airport for Sydney.”
“They’ve got enough land there – they’ve got 1,800 hectares – which is more than enough to build a major hub airport,” he said. “They’ve made it very clear that it’s not to divert traffic, it’s to provide for growth, and I think that’s shortsighted.”
The new airport will attract freight away from Melbourne, according Mr Hansford.
He said Victorian freight will be attracted to Badgerys Creek by better rail connections and the proliferation of freight logistics companies in that part of Sydney.
“The only reason they’re going to Melbourne is because of the curfew and the availability of handling facilties, so it will substantially change the face of air freight in Australia,” Mr Hansford said.
Who pays the bill?
Abbott says the private sector will fund the lion’s share and operate it. As well, he has no problem with foreign investment if that’s what it takes.
But as yet there is no indication how much taxpayers will have to fork out, or how the money will be raised.
Public-private partnerships have not all gone smoothly in recent years, as Brisbane’s Airport Link and Clem7 and Sydney’s Lane Cove and Cross City tunnels attest.
But unlike roads, airports have a broader range of revenues on which to draw, from passenger landing charges to commercial rents and parking fees.
It used to be said that “if you build it, they will come”, but poor planning around the airport could lead to extra congestion and poor linkages to existing freight networks, which could make it a white elephant.
Abbott has laid the tarmac with the decision to back Badgerys Creek.
But getting to take-off will be the tricky part.
—with Jackson Stiles, AAP