Apr 14, 2012

The case for a second Sydney Airport – Opinion – Australian Financial Review

Facts don’t cease to exist because they are ignored, said Aldous Huxley.

That line should stay front of mind as debate continues over the need for a second airport for Sydney.  The uncomfortable fact, and it is one that can’t be ignored, is that Kingsford Smith Airport is full.  All the tinkering in the world won’t change that.  Nothing will make that reality go away.

Here is another uncomfortable fact: Kingsford Smith airport is small.  It was built in an age when aviation was new and planes were small and few.  Tullamarine in Melbourne is more than twice the size of Kingsford Smith.  Brisbane is three times the size.  Another fact: doing nothing is already costing the Australian economy.  In 2000, half of all international flights were through Sydney.  Today that figure has dropped to 41 percent.  And last year, Melbourne’s international traffic grew by nearly 10 percent, four times that of Sydney’s.  A failure to increase Sydney’s aviation capacity through a second airport will be a handbrake on future productivity.

These compelling facts are contained in the most comprehensive, independent study ever undertaken into Sydney’s aviation needs.  The joint 3,200 page Federal and NSW Government Report makes it absolutely clear that Sydney needs a second airport sooner rather than later.  Australians 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.

International experience shows airports create 1,000 jobs for every million passengers.  By 2035, the cost to national GDP of turning away flights will be $6 billion.  By 2060, it will be nearly six times more.  We will lose the chance to create 4,000 new jobs by 2035 and nearly 80,000 by 2060.

Passenger numbers will more than double to 87 million by 2035 and double again by 2060.  There is no way Kingsford Smith can absorb this growth.  The problem extends beyond the airport itself. In three years time, road congestion will be so severe queues will be up to four kilometres long.  This news won’t come as a shock to anyone who uses the roads in and around the airport even now.

The problem doesn’t stop with Sydney.  A delay in Sydney has a knock-on effect across the entire network.  By 2020, a two hour delay in the morning would flow on to at least 200 other flights around the country.  Regular schedules would take up to five hours to recover.  That means more people stuck at the airport or circling in the sky rather than at work or at home with their families.

This issue must be beyond short-term politics.  It needs a mature bipartisan approach. Sydney is our gateway to the nation and the world.  This joint report shows beyond doubt, we can afford to ignore these facts no longer.