Speech to Airservices Australia 2011 Waypoint
National Convention Centre, Canberra
The Hon Anthony Albanese MP
Minister for Infrastructure & Transport
Leader of the House
Member for Grayndler
1 June 2011
The first time I had the pleasure of addressing a Waypoint forum was back in 2008 – my first year as Transport Minister.
Back then, I stood under the wings of the famous G for George aircraft at the Australian War Memorial.
It’s often known as “Lucky” George because of its proud record of bringing home every crewman who flew in its 90 missions.
I like the story of its trip to Australia in 1944. The flight took almost one month and the aircraft eventually landed at Amberley, west of Brisbane.
Like a modern day celebrity, G for George was to tour the nation in a publicity blitz, raising funds for war bonds.
Before heading south, the pilot – Flight Lieutenant E A Hudson – indulged in some personal business.
He flew G for George on a brief detour north to his home town of Rockhampton where it circled the town twice to big crowds.
Hudson then landed the plane and stepped out heroically to great applause and hugs all round from his family who hadn’t seen him in four years.
Australians’ love of airplanes and the magic of flight have only intensified since those dark days of WWII.
As a vast, island nation we rely on air travel to connect us to the world and to each other.
Last week, the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics released some remarkable figures.
In 2010, international passenger numbers at our airports rose to a record 26.8 million travellers.
That’s a nearly ten percent rise in a year.
Compare this with the growth figures in the rest of the developed world – in Europe 6.7 percent, and North America even less, at 6.2 percent.
The popularity of air travel among Australians during the worst downturn since the Great Depression is testament to the resilience of our aviation industry.
It is also a tribute to the success of our Economic Stimulus Package which was vital in sustaining strong domestic consumer confidence.
Despite this rosy picture, most of you here today know that there are some big challenges ahead of us.
I’d like today to look at our achievements as well as to the challenges ahead.
We are facing an era of unprecedented globalisation.
Today, more than ever, the aviation industry underpins our economic growth and provides a gateway to the wider, global economy.
The sector directly employs around 50,000 people and a further half a million indirectly.
It contributes about $7 billion to our gross national product.
That is why the Government removed investment obstacles at our major airports by extending tripartite deeds to 50 years, and enabling them to invest up to $9 billion in modern facilities and infrastructure.
I mentioned a moment ago the impressive international passenger numbers.
Domestically, the skies over Australia last year were the busiest they’ve ever been with just short of 54 million passengers taking almost 600,000 flights.
That’s a seven percent rise on 2009.
Every way you look at it, 2010 was a record breaker for passenger kilometres travelled, for seat capacity and the number of aircraft trips.
And it was not simply on the more established routes like Melbourne to Sydney, or Sydney to Brisbane – though all of those grew strongly.
The fastest growth of all was Gold Coast to Newcastle (up 26 per cent), Darwin – Melbourne (up nearly 20 per cent), Cairns – Melbourne (up nearly 16 per cent), Karratha – Perth (more than 13 per cent) and Adelaide – Brisbane (nearly 13 per cent).
However, there are some flashing amber lights on the horizon.
There’s the impact of the strong Australian dollar on inbound tourism.
The fluctuating cost of aviation fuel.
And ongoing concern for both the aviation sector and the broader economy about training and the need for more skilled staff.
When I first spoke to you in June 2008, we were in the early stages of national consultations for Australia’s first National Aviation Policy White Paper.
Today, that White Paper, “Flight Path to the Future” has been in place for 18 months.
It is providing certainty with incentive to plan and invest for the long term.
It is helping us strengthen safety and security.
And it is addressing the needs of aviation workers, travellers and neighbouring communities.
Airservices Australia has played a central role in implementing some of the biggest initiatives in the White Paper. This includes –
- Establishing an Aircraft Noise Ombudsman, something I am particularly proud of, given I introduced a private member’s bill to do just that over a decade ago
- Harmonising civil and military air traffic systems
- Deploying new and better air traffic management technology and
- Improving procedures to optimise airspace management.
AIRSERVICES CAPITAL EXPENDITURE
I also welcome Airservices’ capital expenditure program of nearly $1 billion over the next five years for better services, facilities and training.
There will be:
- New towers for Melbourne, Adelaide and Rockhampton with the latest and best air traffic control technology
- A new combined air traffic control tower and rescue and fire fighting station at Broome, and
- Modernisation of rescue and fire services at our busiest airports, including a new fire station at Perth Airport and six new fire trucks for Launceston and Hobart airports.
And it has put its surplus equipment to good use, providing eleven rescue and fire fighting vehicles, with training, to the Papua New Guinea National Airports Corporation.
Airservices is also leading the way in adopting satellite-based technologies to improve air-traffic management.
It is also stepping up ground-based surveillance capacity including a modern en-route radar network.
I’d encourage Airservices to keep a close eye on the impact these technologies have on communities around our airports.
Let me update you on the important steps we’re taking to work with local communities.
In February this year, I issued guidelines for Community Aviation Consultation Groups and Planning Coordination Forums for our major airports.
Most of the 19 federally-leased airports now have in place Community Aviation Consultation Groups.
These groups allow airport operators, nearby residents, local authorities, airport users and stakeholders such as Airservices, to exchange information about airport operations and their impact.
Capital city airports also have in place high level Planning Coordination Forums to better integrate development planning with land transport access.
We know that aircraft noise is an inevitable by-product of aviation activity.
We must seek to minimise it where we can and provide the best possible information to those affected by it.
That is why it is vital that advanced air traffic management technology, like performance based navigation, be consistent with the Government’s policy of fair noise sharing for communities living in the vicinity of airports and under flight paths.
Still on the issue of noise, last September, the nation’s first Aircraft Noise Ombudsman, Ron Brent, began his work.
He has already delivered a valuable review into how Airservices handles noise complaints.
At the core of this review was the recommendation that the Airservices’ Noise Enquiry Unit step beyond its present information and enquiry role to that of complaint resolution, providing detailed responses to complainants.
The importance this Government gives to community engagement is demonstrated in my latest Statement of Expectations to Airservices.
In the Statement I emphasised the need for Airservices to work with stakeholders, particularly with the community and industry, before implementing major changes to air traffic management.
REGIONAL AND REMOTE INVESTMENT
I mentioned earlier that many of our regional centres are busier than ever.
That’s why we are looking to extend air traffic management services to cover these growing regional areas.
Enhanced surveillance and air traffic services will be in place in Launceston and Hobart shortly and at regional centres such as Alice Springs, Mackay and Coffs Harbour in the near future.
We are also determined to provide greater assistance to our more remote and isolated communities.
In this year’s Budget, we allocated $26 million over the next two years to improve the safety of airstrips at remote communities.
It is vital we support these remote communities as they rely on aviation services to connect them to the rest of Australia, and the world.
Before I close today, let me bring you up to date on a few matters concerning our nation’s biggest airport – Sydney.
It’s been said that when Wall Street sneezes, the world catches a cold.
The same, unfortunately, can be said of Sydney airport.
Each year, about 35 million passengers flow through Sydney.
It receives 40 per cent of all international flights – twice that of Melbourne.
And it’s the heart of our domestic network, with 25 per cent of all national passengers flowing through Sydney.
So, unsurprisingly, even a relatively minor hold up at Sydney can flow right across the nation, disrupting the plans of thousands of travellers.
Let me give you an example from analysis prepared for the joint study into Sydney’s aviation capacity.
By 2015, if bad weather reduced Sydney’s runways to 55 flights an hour in the 7-9am peak, it would take about three hours, or until noon, for the airport’s schedule to recover.
By 2020, the same morning delay would set back the flight timetable by around five hours, or until 2pm.
Every piece of research shows that the pressure on Sydney airport will continue to build.
With no breaches of the 80 movements per hour cap in the previous decade, we saw several last year.
Sydney is getting busier.
Passenger numbers are expected to double in the next 20 years.
Something has got to give, or the Australian economy will suffer.
Business will go elsewhere if they can’t get into Sydney.
Tourists will choose other destinations.
We will see lost productivity as delays build and demand cannot be met.
I noted this during the most recent Master Plan process.
For this reason, the Australian and NSW Governments have joined together to identify not only a location for a second airport, but solutions to the many challenges facing air services in the Sydney basin.
We need to reduce the pressure on Sydney Airport – the reliability of our national network depends on it.
Let me conclude by launching today an important document – the annual report on domestic airline activity for 2010 by the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics.
This Bureau is a source of extremely valuable information.
It supplies not just my department and my office, but the people of Australia with the latest data on our sector which it analyses, makes sense of and then releases to the wider world.
In this way, it plays a central role in the creation of Government policy.
It shows us, today, just how resilient is this vital and dynamic sector of the Australian economy.
And it helps us identify those flashing amber lights so we can tackle problems before they overwhelm us.
It is my pleasure to launch this report here today before this important audience.