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Civil access to RAAF bases to remain restricted?

written by australianaviation.com.au | June 20, 2011

A Jetstar A320 comes in to land at Williamtown.

A review into civil aviation access to military airfields, released for public comment by Defence Minister Stephen Smith last Thursday, warns against further easing of access restrictions to RAAF bases around Australia, and argues there is “no case” to open bases near major capital cities to RPT airline operations.

“The major capital city airports have adequate capacity to meet current and future civil air traffic demands,” the report, dated September 2010 and authored by Air Vice-Marshal Robert Treloar and Air Commodore Paul Devine, argues.

If the report is accepted by government, that conclusion would effectively close the door on any airline operations from RAAF Richmond (northwest of Sydney), RAAF Edinburgh (north of Adelaide) and RAAF Amberley (west of Brisbane). In the past Jetstar in particular has expressed interest in operating from RAAF bases, given their potential to provide competition to otherwise monopoly major city airports.

Rapid growth in low cost airline A320 and 737 operations into Newcastle Airport, on RAAF Williamtown, the Air Force’s major fighter base, has created unforeseen issues, the report notes.

“The WLM [Williamtown] experience provides sufficient warning that civil aviation access can have unintended consequences for Air Force, including costs, capability loss or skewing personnel requirements (ATS and ARFFS), and ultimately reduced military access to the airfield, with attendant significant, possibly irretrievable, capability loss.”


The report also says that further general aviation access to RAAF bases, including the major pilot/instructor training bases of Pearce and East Sale, “is not recommended, either during normal operating periods or out of hours. Once significant general aviation activity is approved at Air Force airfields, reversing the decision would be difficult.”

The public consultation process on the review, which can be downloaded here, closes on October 31.

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Comments (19)

  • Jake deVal


    Noooo – we can’t have access to the RAAF’s airports or airspace like they do in the USA. Since the RAAF has pissed on every fencepost marking its territory ‘sacred’ for a precious few. I often wonder about the mental state of senior ADF personnel. After all, WE the TAXPAYER paid for it in the first instance!

  • Farmer


    If Richmond is not turned over to deomestic air traffic Sydney will never have a viable second airport. There is no other option that will work in the Sydney basin. Defence needs to think outside the square a bit rather just saying its ours and we wont let go!!!

  • Nujje


    Sounds like an easy hit to have a go at the ADF. Recent reports on combined civil military operations from RAAF bases showed that apart from some convenience benefits the logistics from both sides was very difficult to manage. it also showed that while commercial operators asked for a limited level of access and operational ability, after being given access they needed more and more and started to restrict the normal use of the ADF.

    Just because the tax payer paid for the asset doesn’t mean that they should have a controlling role. The military have a duty of management with the public paid for assets. Imagine the outrage if the RAAF said they could not support operation “x” because they couldn’t take off in time because the local airlines wouldn’t let them have the required slots.

  • peter


    sydney would already have a second airport if it wasnt for politicians looking after there buddies

  • Matty


    Gotta agree with Nujje.

    The place was built as a Military airbase, not a commercial airport. While most of the time it might work well, consider the outrage by the travelling public if the RAAF needed to conduct a military exercise and closed the airport to incoming commerical traffic.

    With the alternative being Hornets with live ammunition (missles, bombs and cannon shells) lining up behind a 737 on the flight line, I wouldnt want to be a passenger in the 737.

    Accidents do happen, and creating such a scenario for commercial benefit doesn’t seem wise to me at all.

    Maybe an option is, for any commerical entity that were to take over the airbase, to build a brand new military airbase for the RAAF and move the RAAF elsewhere – although with so many NIBY NOTE’s in society (Not In My Back Yard and Not Over There Either – it would never happen!

  • craig simpson


    Sydney doesn’t need a second airport it needs a high speed rail link to canberra, melbourne, newcastle and brisbane. 1 high speed train could take 3-4 aircraft worth of passengers.

    It’s time that qantas saw this and started to invest in this mode of transport.

  • Andrew


    Typical RAAF AVM response. Always protecting their own interests. As if Richmond couldn’t cope with a dozen or so A320 arrivals and departures a day. They barely have ten flights a day out of Richmond with the 707’s gone and only one or two C130 squadrons left.

    Besides, isn’t there a commercial airline paintshop facility at Richmond? I can tell you that Albanese isn’t arguing that Sydney Airport has plenty of “adequate capacity”

    If Sydney is to grow as a regional centre of the Asia-Pacific, Richmond, as a low cost hub is the only alternative.

  • Ron


    I agree that armed hornets lining up behind comercial traffic is not a good idea. Tactical operations like that need the place, & the airspace, to themselves. But Richmond really is becoming a bit of a waste of resource from the taxpayers point of view. The 707’s are gone, the Caribous are gone, the C-17’s & A330 tankers aren’t there – as Andrew said, just two squadrons of Hercs. And the top brass is wrong – Sydney doesn’t have adequate future capacity. Sydney needs Richmond. Send the Hercs to Edinburgh to keep the Orions company – again, another RAAF base for just one aircraft type at the moment.

  • Bob


    Civil airfields are for civil aircraft, and military airfields are for military aircraft. It is acceptable at airfields where civil traffic is minimal (such as Tindal, Curtin and Learmouth) but Williamtown was foolish. The home of Australia’s fighter force and they have to compromise operations to accommodate Newcastle’s civil traffic. Facility sharing also compromises the physical security of defence installations.

    Nujje is absolutely correct. It is never just a few movements, as the airlines (and the public) will demand more and more until Richmond looks like a messy Darwin. Richmond is there to service the needs of the large number of defence personnel in the Sydney area.
    Here’s a good idea though. Move all the units to Ipswich. I’m sure Qld would welcome them, and Holsworthy could be sold off for housing. Or even better a new airport, because in Sydney a new airport is more important than national defence.

    How would the residents under the flightpath around Richmond feel about commercial movements? The residents around Williamtown are pitching a fit at the moment, forgetting perhaps that the base has been there for 70 years and that they didn’t have to move under the flightpaths around the base and the associated bombing range. It seems the discount they received on the property for being under a flightpath isn’t helping mollify their feelings.

  • Ian Pearson


    I would hope anyone wishing to make comment on this forum has at least checked their facts. Andrew, how many C130 squadrons are at Richmond?

  • Mark Rowe


    To all those that think Richmond is the answer to Sydney’s second airport, consider this: Richmond is prone to heavy fogs that would close the airport too often in winter. Also the runway is too short, and because the towns of Richmond and Windsor are so close to the field, there is no room to extend it. Yes, empty light airliners can land there for a paint job, but a full one could not take off with fuel sufficient to get anywhere much beyond Brisbane or Melbourne. And that’s just the smaller airliners. Larger airliners could not take off at all.



    Richmond is an integral Base for Australian Defence. It provides a movement location for all the ARMY unit’s at holsworthy. Move RAAF Richmond and you might as well move all the other bases out of Sydney. With the additive of the new MRTT’s, RAAF Amberly is now at it’s deignated level of capacity they do not have the room to take on the Hurc Squadron’s. The only place that has the capacity to expand in order to take on the C-130 operations is RAAF Edinburgh. However more land would need to be required around the airfield and the Base would have to go another major upgrade to handle the added C-130’s.

    Everyone just needs to remind themselves that the aircraft taking off from our RAAF bases are either flying to support our troops on overseas operations, last minute taskings to assist in Search and Reasue and Humanitarian Aid, or training to keep their skills up, in order to continue to provide our country with the air power we need to uphold the securty of Australia’s sky’s.

    Our RAAF Bases are nowhere near the size of our US Counterparts and just not let up to take on commercial aircraft movments.

    Sydney will need a second Airpor., However RAAF Richmond, at this time, is not the place for it.

  • Jason H


    @ GJONES

    How about we move everyone (RAAF, ADF etc) out of Sydney? They’re not required there. Lets be honest. Where would the officers wives go to shop then?

    Get rid of the RAAF from Williamtown too. Are they expecting an assault from the RNZAF or Fiji? Its right smack bang in the middle of the Brisbane-Sydney flight corridor and GA would welcome the freed up airspace.

    Full time @ Scherger is a better fit.

  • JCatalano


    I’m sure everyone will be real happy the day all the RAAF bases shut down and China decides to invade.

  • Horrie


    Edinburgh Air Base should be moved to our northern shores so that Adelaide International Airport would have a new home. Look at the advantages this would bring for civil aviation and the community…get rid of the current curfew, open up more real estate near Adelaide, safety, allow higher buildings to be built in the Adelaide CBD, reduce problems with noise in the western suburbs.

  • Jason H


    @ J Catalano,

    No one is saying shut RAAF bases down. Just relocated them up north.

    Lets be honest, RAAF Richmonds’ location exists only to serve those who live in Sydney. Its location is not strategic.

    NB: China has already invaded, not with warplanes but dollars.

  • Matt


    That’s fine to relocate, but who are u going to get to work in those crap places? Unless u pay mining industry size wages less and less people are going to stay in the defence force if it heads north. Look at the submarine fleet….if you want to work somewhere dark and cramped then work in a mine for 3 times the money….hence the mining recruitment people who in the past have set up out of the front of navy bases to poach people.

  • Horrie


    Matt. I’m glad that you agree it’s fine to relocate, but anyone that joins a defence force and they don’t like where they live had better think again about their chosen profession.
    As I said in my previous letter, ‘open up more real estate near Adelaide.’ Just doing that alone would be a benifit to greater number of people than are housed at the Edinburgh base. (including the 7th Battalion).



    I do agree with some of your comment but have you all thought about the security implication that come with opening it up to civilian operations?? 

    Over the years the RAAF has downsized and lost many of it’s operational bases due to population encroachment. There is no more secure locations for foreign diplomatic aircraft to securely stay in the sydney basin, other than Richmond at least within a two hour travel time. There is no more RAAF Fairbairn to do this as is was sold off in 2003. 

    Why don’t you lot have a think about it when a foreign diplomatic aircraft lands at Mascot and have to rely on civilian security companies to guard it, who can not nor will not place there lives on the line to protect the asset or the person within that asset. What do you think the men and women of the ADF do? They all do that and more. 

    So saying that moving the ADF out of Sydney and move them up north or to RAAF Edinburgh will cost more than what the taxpayer can afford, with regards to the decommission of the base, the clean up, the retrenchment of more than a 1000’s workers, the community as a whole, the shutting up of all the companies that the RAAF rely on for there daily operations and supplies etc. etc. 

    All of you should take a few steps back and not look at the smaller picture, but the bigger wider picture and the future of the country and hope it should be protected. 

    Currently Richmond has only 1 fly SQN but look at all workers that support the operations of the SQN. Would you like to be the one that says to those works “Sorry but there is no more work here for you, don’t bother turning up in the morning”.

    Just after world war 2 the RAAF was the third largest air force of approximately 182500  personnel after the USAF and the RAF,  currently they have 13500 which is a fraction of what it was. 

    Now in thinking of those number compare that with any of the Asian countries up north when a conflict happened and they decide to flex the muscles. 

    Just think before you speak and comment about the “RAAF has pissed on every fencepost marking its territory ‘sacred’ for a precious few. I often wonder about the mental state of senior ADF personnel. After all, WE the TAXPAYER paid for it in the first instance!” 

    When the RAAF does so much for little, recognition. How do you think those people felt when they we injury in the 2002 Bali Bombing? To be brought back home in a back to a Herc to safety when they can get they specialist treatment they need. Or the farmer that were cut off by flood waters or the people of QLD who were affected by the recent floods. 

    So just have a think before you comment because someone might have a little more knowledge and insight then you do. 

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