A long awaited report on Sydney’s airport needs has warned that the city faces ‘aircraft deadlock’ within a decade and will need a second airport by 2030.
But the study’s key recommendations – raising the cap on hourly aircraft movements at the current airport and building a second airport at Badgery’s Creek in the city’s west – were immediately rejected by the federal government.
“I have already made it clear the federal government will not make any changes to the current cap or curfew,” Infrastructure Minister Anthony Albanese said today in response to the report. “Further, I have consistently stated that the government has ruled out the use of the Badgery’s Creek site as a second airport and that remains our position.”
The report, produced by a joint federal and New South Wales government committee, recommended increasing the airport’s peak-hour cap from 80 to 85 aircraft movements, though it said such an increase would only buy the airport a few more years before it reaches capacity. Anticipating opposition to the Badgery’s Creek option, the committee recommended Wilton, south of Campbelltown, as a next-best option for a second airport. It did not recommend dropping the airport’s 11 pm to 6 am aircraft curfew.
The report said that even if a recently proposed overhaul of the airport’s terminals goes forward, the airport still wouldn’t be able to meet projected medium and long term passenger increases.
“The airport has limits to its ability to handle passenger growth not only because of the legislated cap on runway movements per hour but also because of the physical constraints on runway length” and other infrastructure, the report said, adding that there was “no scope” to enlarge the airport.
At current rates, the airport is expected to reach peak-hour capacity by 2020 and full capacity by 2027, according to the report. By 2035, the airport will have virtually no options for increasing capacity even through the use of larger aircraft.
The committee said inaction would cost the economy $6 billion in lost growth by 2035 and $60 billion by 2060, about half of that hitting New South Wales.
For all that, building a second airport has long been a politically contentious issue and is likely to become even more difficult as the city continues to expand. The government purchased the Badgerys Creek site more the two decades ago for use as an airport, but the city’s growth to the west has since surrounded the site with residential areas, and building an airport there is now opposed by both the federal and state governments.
The report said Badgerys Creek remains the best option because of its road and rail links and proximity to growing markets but said Wilton, in the city’s southwest, would be the next best choice, though it acknowledged that this too could face opposition.
“The spread of urban development in the Sydney basin means it is already very difficult to find a suitable site” for a second airport, the study said. “The opportunity to secure a suitable site is likely to disappear altogether if action is not put in train now.”
The study recommended improving public transport links to the existing airport, immediately initiating a new Master Plan process for Sydney Airport, and opening RAAF Base Richmond to limited commercial traffic. It also said Bankstown Airport, currently reserved for general aviation, could be opened to turboprop commercial flights, though Albanese said he opposed that change.
Albanese said he would push to “establish a joint body with NSW to look at implementing a long term strategy” and called for cooperation.
“This is a matter of importance for Australia and it needs a bipartisan approach,” he said.