A ‘pros’ and ‘cons’ comparison of Richmond as a second jet airport for Sydney is academic since it is going to happen, and probably soon.
That is why it is back in the news today. It is part of the softening up process for its announcement in the near future, possibly before Christmas.
That change is the Rees government giving up on a very fast train connection to a remote airport outside the Sydney basin, and accepting the argument that unless Sydney flights actually come and go from Sydney, rather than somewhere across the great divide, or in the highlands or assorted vineyards, the corporate activity critical for the city’s growth, jobs, and the capacity to generate state government revenues will be injured.
There is also a hint that a potential site for a full sized 3rd Sydney Airport may be found in the central coast region, between Sydney and Newcastle. But nothing leaps off the map that doesn’t involve filling in wetlands, chopping the top off Mangrove Mountain, or otherwise provoking a massive adverse reaction in an area largely occupied by dormitory suburbs, natural reserves or seriously complex terrain. (A Hong Kong style airport at Lion Island anyone, reached by an eight lane motorway and express rail line through Palm Beach!) But back to the real world.
The pro Richmond items are:
- It is going to happen.
- It will take, potentially 10-20 arrivals or departures an hour by shorter haul domestic single aisle jets, namely Boeing 737s and A320s.
- This activity will take pressure off Sydney Airport at times of peak demand by longer haul and international jets, as the airport cannot cope with any sustained growth in traffic.
The contra Richmond list includes:
- No room for serious expansion of the site to the status of a major airport with the 4000 metre runways needed to handle big jets flying long distances and departing on hot days.
- Limited connectivity with other flights, given the range limitations for longer domestic services.
- Irrelevancy for short intra state flights, which currently clog the main airport.
- The need for seriously costly road building to make it more broadly attractive to the greater part of Sydney.
- A further delay to the real need, which is a full scale airport at the only alternative site left in the Sydney basin, which is preserved at Badgery’s Creek.
The opportunity to improve rail services to the NW of Sydney is neither a pro or con.
Comparatively low cost improvements to the Blacktown-Richmond suburban line could link the metropolitan network to the airport and shift the existing line to a station adjacent to the terminal.
This would improve life for other commuters, and if these rail upgrades lead into the route of the Chatswood-Parramatta line, which was built only as far as Epping very good things could follow, especially if there was also an extension of the line south to provide a second harbour rail crossing from the north shore.
The sting in this is that NSW is incredibly bad at building railways, and it could take 50 years, or eternity, to happen, whether in part or full. Richmond will open for business maybe a lifetime before it gets anything more the shorter cheaper option, that is, an airport station and an improved link to Blacktown, where passengers can join the hell on rails of the rest of the network.
If the all new NW rail line (whether heavy rail or metro) is ever built, the synergies of the Richmond short haul domestic airport improve further, but we are smoking opium at this point.
Richmond is useless too for rural flights, since many of the passengers on them are connecting to international or longer haul flights that won’t be using its 2134 metre runway, and if for example you are flying from many country towns to the city, the time taken to get from Richmond to somewhere in George Street is going to completely ruin the time savings compared to driving to town from the bush in the first place.
A low cost airline airport?
There is a pervasive view in federal and state political circles that somehow a second Sydney airport can be designated ‘low cost’ while the main airport would be reserved for ‘full service’ carriers. This delusion fails to understand the shift toward low cost models and the reality that airlines which do not have low cost bases aren’t going to be in business in the medium term. If Sydney Airport doesn’t accommodate low cost carriers it will be irrelevant, and the only question concerning Qantas is not when the brand will shrink to become smaller than the fast growing Jetstar services, but when?