His is not quite a household name but anyone with a passing interest in aviation would have heard of Charles Ulm. An ANZAC and then fighter on the Western Front, Ulm later teamed up with the better-known Charles Kingsford Smith and was his co-pilot on the historic crossing of the Pacific in the Southern Cross. While Ulm never had an airport named after him, he did help carve his place in history with a remarkable collection of photographs, now held by the National Library of Australia.
The images reveal Ulm’s love of flying but for those grappling with the future of aviation in Sydney there’s a stand out. It is an aerial shot taken in 1928 of the famous Southern Cross coming into land at Mascot. There’s a hangar, a couple of sheds and a cleared space for a runway surrounded by acres of paddocks and market gardens.
Sydney today would be unrecognisable to Ulm. Not only has its population quadrupled, the city has now encroached and encircled those lazy paddocks. In the intervening eight decades, Kingsford Smith Airport has grown into the most economically important transport hub in Australia. The reality is that we are a nation of flyers. As an island continent with vast distances between our cities and regional towns, we need the convenience and speed of flight to connect us with each other and the rest of the world.
Recently, the most comprehensive, independent study ever undertaken into Sydney’s aviation needs was released. The 3,200 page report commissioned by both the Federal and NSW Governments makes it clear that Sydney’s aviation infrastructure cannot cope with future demand. The report makes it absolutely clear that Sydney needs a second airport sooner rather than later. The economic costs of not acting are substantial.
Passenger numbers will more than double between now and 2035 (from 40 million to 87 million) and double again by 2060. In peak periods, demand for aircraft movements exceeds the legislated 80 movements cap per hour and this pressure will only get worse as each year passes. All the tinkering in the world will not absorb this growth in traffic.
Ulm’s tiny Fokker monoplane has long been superseded by modern passenger jets, but not even the carrying power of these comparative giants will be able to meet the demand. The fact is that Kingsford Smith Airport is physically small and is surrounded by densely packed suburbs. Melbourne airport is two and a half times bigger. Brisbane is three times bigger.
Sydney is a hub. A delay in Sydney has a knock-on effect across the network. By 2020, a two hour delay at Sydney in the morning would flow-on to at least 200 other flights across the entire network. Despite the speed and power of modern aircraft, airlines today must schedule 25 additional minutes to fly between Sydney and Melbourne than they did in 1965. Throw fog, storms or any other delay into the equation and it’s even worse.
International experience shows that airports create 1,000 jobs for every million passengers. Australia will lose jobs and economic investment if we don’t act. Already Sydney is suffering. In 2000, half of all international flights arrived at and departed from Sydney. Now it’s 41 percent. Last year alone, Melbourne’s international traffic grew by 10 percent, four times more than that of Sydney.
This issue must be beyond short-term politics. It needs a mature bipartisan approach. In line with our long-standing position, I have made it clear the Government will not change the current cap or curfew at Sydney Airport and will ensure regional airlines can continue to use it.
The too-hard basket is no longer an option. Sydney is our gateway to the nation and the world and as this joint report shows beyond doubt, this city needs a second airport sooner rather than later.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.