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Sydney Airport gives thumbs-up to government’s reforms

written by Jake Nelson | February 21, 2024

Sydney Airport’s three runways, as seen from the air. (Image: Sydney Airport)

Sydney Airport has praised the federal government’s demand management reforms, particularly the “recovery system” for major disruptions.

Under the proposed system announced on Wednesday, Sydney would be allowed 85 flight movements per hour instead of 80 for a maximum of two hours on days where major disruptions occur, which would result in fewer cancellations and overnight delays.

“That recovery period does not go into the curfew, but what it does allow for is when those significant weather events have occurred, that there is a catch-up period,” said Transport Minister Catherine King at a press conference.

“[This is] to be able to ensure that we don’t have what we had happen on Monday – with numbers of domestic flights cancelled, people really not able to get to their destinations, not able to get home or having to spend nights in hotels when they could be home with their families.”

Sydney Airport CEO Scott Charlton said that, as the biggest hub in Australia’s aviation network, disruptions at Sydney severely impact the whole country.


“Every year we have examples of where a two-hour weather disruption leads to dozens if not hundreds of domestic cancellations, and the impacts are still being felt days later,” he said.

“For example, on the first Friday of the July school holidays last year, we had 150 weather-related cancellations, with a further 40 on each of Saturday, Sunday and Monday. Most of the cancellations across the weekend and into Monday were a consequence of Friday’s disruption as the flight cap worked against airlines recovering their schedules.

“On Monday this week we had storm activity for around 45 minutes which led to 50 domestic services being cancelled. In the future, with a recovery mechanism hopefully it won’t be necessary for the airlines to cancel these flights, which is a great outcome for passengers and a great outcome for the efficiency and resilience of Sydney Airport overall.”

The reforms are not a complete win for Sydney Airport, which under previous CEO Geoff Culbert had advocated for the controversial 80/20 rule to be tightened to as much as 95/5 – meaning that airlines, which can currently keep a take-off slot indefinitely as long as they operate it 80 per cent of the time, would have to operate the slot 95 per cent of the time or lose it.

Minister King at the press conference said the government was not changing the 80/20 rule, but Charlton, in a change of tack from the previous management, said 80/20 could still work under the Government’s proposed compliance rules, which would enable more transparency and power to punish airlines caught “misusing” their slots to box out competition from carriers like Rex and Bonza.

“That’s the main thing we’re announcing today, and transparency on how that is working, so we can actually see the reasons of why flights are being cancelled and then the industry can also work together to minimise those cancellations, whether it be weather, infrastructure or other things,” he said.

“The recovery period will allow us to stop inconveniencing passengers and, as the Minister said, make a much better experience at Sydney Airport, but we would hope in a year’s time we would see the ability of people like Rex Airways or Bonza and others to expand their offering.

“Obviously we see strong demand for people to fly internationally into Sydney, and we now have essentially additional opportunity if slots are freed up to provide more choice, and more choice will lead to cheaper airfares, and cheaper airfares will lead to better outcomes for passengers.”

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