If what was reported in the Daily Telegraph that the new government is getting ready to pour concrete at Badgery’s Creek, a 60-year-old hoodoo is broken.
The newspaper suggests federal treasurer Joe Hockey is seeking to include funding for an airport at Badgerys Creek in the 2014/15 budget to help stimulate a slowing economy. Certainly a $6 billion infrastructure project would help deliver that stimulus.
But a slowing economy does not an airport maketh. Australia has been through many, sometimes severe, recessions since a second Sydney airport was first mooted mid-last century, and despite the many cries from the aviation, business and tourism sectors, no airport has materialised other than what has been published in copious volumes of long-dead trees on the subject.
It’s no wonder the never-mildly-spoken Max Moore-Wilton, as chairman of Sydney Airport Corporation, has laughed at the suggestion of a new airport.
“When people tell me that the concrete trucks are going to start pouring in the first term of this government, boy oh boy, I wonder what they have been smoking,” Moore-Wilton reportedly said about the proposal for Badgerys Creek.
Of course, corporate governance demands he does. He is the chairman responsible to some weighty investors in Sydney’s only international airport. That warrants protecting.
But if it is all true, then the new government looks to be a tremendous ally of aviation. After Moore-Wilton described former transport minister Anthony Albanese as the “worst aviation minister that we had in my life time”, a view shared by many in the industry, the Coalition’s transport minister Warren Truss is instilling a sense of relief within the industry. Already he is moving ahead on pre-election promises for the regional aviation sector as well as opening the door to consultation that has been lacking during recent political terms.
The signs thus far have been very positive.
If the new federal government is to make a decision on a second airport, it is best positioned to do so early in its first term – the period of greatest political courage.
And it will need courage and resolve. Not only does a new airport have yet to pass parliamentary hurdles, it has to pass other regulatory and community obstacles that may well pass Badgerys Creek into the next parliamentary term and a period of greater political risk.
However, it would be fair to suggest the community, business sector and aviation together have created more momentum for Badgerys Creek than at any time in the history of this sorry tale. Arguably there has been no better time to press hard.
Furthermore, if the government choses to demonstrate even greater courage on matters aviation, it could more immediately relax some of the absurd impositions on the natural capacity of Sydney Airport. Recognition, for instance, that some aircraft could operate comfortably outside the current movement cap without hindrance to the community.
Even an additional four movements an hour – two arrivals and two departures, would offer respite from saturation. And another four movements an hour would barely be perceptible, especially if those additional slots were limited to turboprops or the latest generation of widebody aircraft such as the 787 and A380 that are now recognised world-over as neighbour-friendly, even at some of the most noise-sensitive airports such as Heathrow. The same can be said of operations during curfew hours. Though a riskier political move, the pre-curfew period between 0500 and 0600 could be opened up under the same low-noise conditions applied to any additional slots approved over the current 80-an-hour limit.
And more slots, of course, would make Mr Moore-Wilton very happy, without a vestige of smoke anywhere.
Interestingly, this first massive test of the government’s resolve will act as an indicator of how it intends to deal with other problem issues. If the government’s courage can take on Badgerys Creek and win, it’s a portent for other tough policy decisions in the coming parliamentary term.
Aviation, for one, could at last be recognised for the important catalyst it is to the economy. Even Moore-Wilton would have to acknowledge that from his seat overlooking the constrained mess that is Sydney Airport.