The difference between Australia’s airlines and Anthony Albanese is that they want a second airport ‘in’ Sydney and as outlined in the Aviation Green Paper released today, he is searching for a new airport ‘for’ Sydney.

The report says that the external location for the second airport will be supported by strong road and rail links.

Which is more than can be said for the current airport, or even the everyday business of using road or rail for any purpose within the Sydney basin.

This puts the seriousness of this commitment in relation to a distant second airport in question. It would take an exceptional investment by government or a private/public partnership to provide surface transport relief on a significant scale to the southern highlands, or across the Blue Mountains, or to the south of Wollongong or somewhere in the greater Hunter/Newcastle area even if no large airport was being contemplated in those directions.

The efficiency of airline operations in Sydney today is distorted by the same access inadequacies that cripple public and private transport. It takes a large part of Sydney up to two hours even get to the airport, a delay that would similarly afflict getting to a high speed rail terminal offering a 300 km/h link to an airport near Newcastle or Canberra.

Air travel is really about time. Saving time, not embarking on an excursion into the country that could readily come with a trip price equal to or higher than a typical flexible economy fare to Melbourne or Brisbane.

There is a radical solution based on plans first proposed 10 years ago by Bill Bradfield. Build supplementary runways on the southern shore of Botany Bay, near the desalination plant, and link the Cronulla-Sutherland peninsula to La Perouse, Port Botany and the airport by road, and even with a light rail or metro.

Even a single short runway could take the regional aircraft out of the Sydney traffic mix yet provide country travellers with efficient access to the city as well as mainline air connections.

The bonus for non air travellers would be substantial. Connecting Cronulla to heavy traffic generators like the UNSW main campus or relieving the pressure on the Princes Highway through alternative road, bus or rail links to the Sydney CBD would benefit a large part of Sydney. There are various possibilities. A rail link could be made via the UNSW to Bondi Junction and the existing city stations, or through the airport to new city stations including the Hungry Mile (or Barangaroo) development and on to North Sydney

The economic benefits of the Bradfield concept extend way beyond air travellers, and would generate more broadly based returns from transport infrastructure spending. And it couldn’t possibly involve anything like the magnitude of investment needed to make the Sydney-Newcastle transport corridor useful for a brand new airport in the Hunter or on Cooragang Island.

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