Apr 11, 2012

Here’s a radical pre-budget thought, let’s cut Sydney loose

Here’s a radical thought about keeping the budget in surplus and ending the perennial lacerations of the 2nd Sydney Airport debate. Cut Sydney loose. Tell the entitled, chronica

Ben Sandilands — Editor of Plane Talking

Ben Sandilands

Editor of Plane Talking

Here’s a radical thought about keeping the budget in surplus and ending the perennial lacerations of the 2nd Sydney Airport debate.

Cut Sydney loose.

Tell the entitled, chronically poorly managed city that it’s on its own. The rest of Australia doesn’t need it. Not just in terms of its airport, but its pathetically badly managed ports, and hopeless rail infrastructure, and appalling record when it comes to major road building, whether in private public partnership, or just as projects funded by varying amounts of state and federal monies.

Australia could save tens of billions of dollars by telling Sydney, and its current Premier Barry O’Farrell, that it will get not one dollar more than is mathematically due to it from the GST allocations and tax revenues directly reflecting its economic activity, which relative to the rest of the country, is in a death spiral.

Let’s pull the situation apart to its fundamentals.

Sydney, collectively, and under every state government of every political hue, believes it has an automatic right to being the gateway to the nation, and the hub for most of its commerce.

But that’s over and finished. Infrastructure Minister Anthony Albanese has been far too indulgent in claiming that Sydney Airport is critical to the rest of Australian air transport, and that 40% of all domestic aircraft pass through Sydney airport at least once a day, which incidentally, they don’t.

And not all those that pass through Sydney need to. The airlines could within a few weeks, rearrange their fleet deployments to ensure that as little of their capacity as possible is exposed to the daily inefficiency of the airport, meaning that what goes wrong at Sydney will to a large degree only affect jets that do nothing but fly to and from Sydney from somewhere else, and not onwards to and from other destinations during the day.

There is no reason to put up with the miserable inefficiency of Sydney to change from an interstate to international flight, unless you are one of the diminishing fraction of people flying Qantas, and even Qantas doesn’t want you to fly it anymore, preferring you to change over to British Airways to get to London, or switch over to Malaysia Airlines or its new premium short haul carrier in Kuala Lumpur. No wait, that didn’t happen for some reason, like they wanted to do naughty things to Qantas, or thought we were wankers, or whatever.

Let’s get real. If you live in Melbourne, even Qantas will fly you non-stop to LAX. You’d be barking made to go via Sydney. And all those cruel nasty foreign Asian carriers, apart from the ones Qantas tried to suck up to, can fly you non-stop from Melbourne to all the major hubs, where you can easily, and for less money, fly direct to cities Qantas managers couldn’t find in an atlas standing up in a phone booth. If it’s not the mother country, Qantas isn’t interested, and if it is the mother country, it isn’t interested as much as used to be anyhow. So come along possums, hum ‘I still Call Australia Home’ and fly via Sydney if you must, as getting screwed doing it is part of your patriotic duty as an imbecile.

The last large public transport projects delivered in anything resembling economical efficiency in NSW were the Sydney Harbour Bridge (1932) and in the immediately preceding years, the initial stations of the electric City Railway.

The other day Anthony Albanese officiated at the opening of the world’s slowest most inefficiently delivered motorway upgrade in history, at the duplication of the M5 from near Campbelltown to the M7 Junction. It took three years to go about seven kilometres. First the RTA built, make that hand crafted with a man with a shovel and ten supervisors, the two extra lanes, then ripped up the other two lanes. It plonked a pedestrian overpass over the freeway that took so long from the first foundations to the first graffiti upon opening that an entire generation was born and graduating from pre-school before it was finished.

The previous Labor Premier of NSW, Kristina Keneally, spent so long getting her name spelled right in the newspapers in her short tenure in the post that she lost oversight of the Sydney-Inner West metro line, and set a record for spending at least $500 million on a project for which not a single metre of tunnel and rail was dug or laid.

NSW has not successfully built a single new underground rail line since Bradfield. The Eastern Suburbs line was stopped at Bondi Junction, the Bondi Beach line was stopped by yuppies, (it’s our beach, we’re selfish, p*ss off is a reasonable summary) the Chatswood-Parramatta line was stopped at Epping and the really useful station, at Kuringai TAFE, wasn’t built even in the shortened bit because it meant the poor dears with views of the Lane Cove River might have glimpsed and heard trains using a short bridge. And the Airport Line, which attempts to serve the CBD in a backwards direction, went broke, twice.

Sydney has a second airport it can have for free at Badgerys Creek. All the Federal Government has to do is sell it, to anyone prepared to inject billions of dollars back in the public purse and pay for the project, assuming the owners of the existing Sydney Airport, don’t exercise their first right of refusal.

But it won’t even take such a gift. The NSW government apparently believes the chairman of Sydney Airport, Max Moore-Wilton, in his claims that not only is there no problem at Sydney Airport now, but that it will cope perfectly well until 2049. Which is rubbish.

Sydney’s pretensions to being a world city seem incapable of understanding that by the time the economically driven travel booms in China, India and Vietnam, not to mention eastern Europe, central Asia, and resource rich Africa, reach out to fly thousands of additional services a week to Sydney Airport, it will be full.

There is not going to be any room.

There is serious congestion at favoured times now. Barry O’Farrell appears to be totally impervious to the need for a business capital to have convenient flights, and a train, even a 400 kmh train to Canberra, or Melbourne, isn’t going to be a relevant solution to flight congestion, although it will prove critical to the development of the entire SE Australian economy in century ahead.

The only answer to the infrastructure stupidity at Sydney is to let it go. It’s time for Australia to move on, to a future enriched by Sydney’s willing non-participation.

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35 thoughts on “Here’s a radical pre-budget thought, let’s cut Sydney loose

  1. Scott

    Economics will work it out.
    If, as you say, Sydney needs another airport, the private sector will get involved to build one if it is financially viable.
    But with planes getting bigger and faster, efficiencies already being realised via improved logistics and control systems, the price of aviation fuel increasing, improvements in communications and video conferencing, not to mention the various carbon taxes being implimented and the fact that two major international hubs are around 8-9 hours away, I wouldn’t be investing in a new airport in Sydney. All signs point to reduced airplane movements in the future, not more.

  2. comet

    First, despite the 2nd airport being logical, it is also political suicide for state MPs.

    Second, Barry O’Farrell promised he’d never approve of it, and then completely dug himself in by making statements (yesterday) that it’s a matter of trust and his political integrity, that he will “never” approve a 2nd airport for Sydney.

    Dug in so deep, O’Farrell can never change his stance.

    So what possible options can there be? Can the Federal government use its powers to override the state of NSW, therefore allowing O’Farrell to save face?

    Or cut it loose, as Ben says (I get the feeling that Ben has given up all hope of any political answer to this).

  3. johnb78

    Ben: great piece. I hope you’re being pessimistic, but with O’Farrell nailing himself to every branch of the idiot tree, I fear you’re more or less spot on.

    Scott: economics can’t work it out and the private sector can’t build it; that’s a ridiculous assertion. The point is not that the NSW government is refusing to spend money on a second airport, it’s that it’s refusing to *let anyone* spend money on a second airport. No matter how strong the business case, you can’t build an airport without planning permission.

  4. Wobbly

    @scott – what of significance has the private sector ever built in Australia?

    Spivs can’t even build stuff with pocket gulls of govt money.

    Sydney will choke itself within a decade and will suffer a 20-30 year lack of infrastructure driven recession.

  5. Michael Lines

    Damn fine idea! The place is a disaster and most of it (except the harbor) is a dump anyway.

  6. Peter Evans

    Nice venting.

    But Keating, Howard, and (next up) Abbott are all Sydney myopic, and beholden to local politics, so fat chance of a second ariport. Besides, BOF is just being told to quieten down until after the next federal election. Rudd and Gillard haven’t time to do anything, and besides, got into bed with the NSW division of the ALP.

    Until there’s a federal government leadership (either tweedle-dee or tweedle-dum) that’s got some distance to Sydney patronage, we’ll never see anything interesting happen to stop the rot.

  7. dc3535

    Hi Ben
    I generally enjoy your articles but I can’t understand why you are always so negative about Qantas. This article is about the politics/viability of a second airport for Sydney but yet you still manage to criticise Qantas. I am not a big fan of Qantas and prefer to fly Star Alliance but I think you need to be a bit more balanced regarding Qantas and not so openly aggressive. Just a passing observation.

  8. Hugh (Charlie) McColl

    Ben, mate. Chill.
    As an out-of-towner (from NQ) visiting Sydney, it is of no interest that the Airport Line has gone broke, “twice”. The whole rail setup is basically a government run enterprise regardless of who is said to “own” it and since the whole community actually owns it we don’t expect it to make money. It takes 11 minutes to get to Sydney Central station from the airport. It’s a very reliable, clean, safe experience for air travellers arriving or passing through Sydney Airport. And for the millions of people who live in the south and west of Sydney, including along the East Hills Line from Campbelltown through Glenfield to Central via Sydney airport, this is a commuter route without peer. Why not seriously upgrade that route to provide the fastest possible electric commuter trains running to the margins of Sydney in all directions – some of them directly accessing the airport itself.? Let highish speed urban rail networks solve a problem rather than exacerbating it. The the private enterprise that runs the airport can work out how to land more planes. “It can’t be that hard”.

  9. Ben Sandilands

    There have been earlier discussions about the Airport Line and private equity in general.

    Financial engineering on these projects is out of control, to the point where the Cross City Tunnel for example involves an absurdly high toll of which around 85 cents in the dollar go to fees paid to and between various layers of finance.

    It is an issue that Sydney projects involve even on paper, the highest engineering costs in the world, and this is largely financial engineering, together with road closures and other measures designed to frustrate competition with non-toll roads.

    We can have more much needed infrastructure if we make the public component in these partnerships go further.

    The airport line is OK, and will be more so if NSW heeds calls by Sydney Airport to take it back into the public system, so that the train fare for three people doesn’t exceed the taxi that will take you to the door of your hotel or building.

    I’m sorry to say as a regular user of Sydney services in general that the trains are not always clean, or safe to use.

    There are going to be benefits system wide from the line duplications on the East Hills/Airport and South Lines, and the Glenfield fly over. I would like to think that the existing rolling stock might also be allowed to run at its designed ‘cruise’ of 160kmh rather than the blanket sector speed blocks now in force. There are sections where this would be highly relevant, and as mentioned here before, the steam trains were faster back in the 50s and earlier on lines like the western, southern and northern, on routes now included in the City Rail network.

    To make the system better we also need to remove the union barriers to automation, so the trains are supervised rather than manually driven, and platform curtain walls to stop the nauseating atrocities that took something in excess of 100 lives at rate of more than two per week system wide in the last full year. I’d like to agree that ‘it can’t be that hard’, but a starting point would be to begin using City Rail assets more effectively starting today if possible.

  10. bluegreen

    Great article Ben

    What chance for the ones that have been on the wishlist for years now?

    M4 East tunnel and link through to botany.
    Somehow linking the F3 to anywhere quickly

  11. Liam

    @dc3535 – I think Ben’s point here regarding Qantas insistence on routing the majority of its international passengers via Sydney and the problems that can arise there is valid to this particular argument.

    As the “national airline”, surely it would be in Qantas best interest to do all possible to mitigate congestion at Kingsford Smith.

  12. Hugh (Charlie) McColl

    I don’t have a problem with a government rail service gouging air traveling consumers for a quick, safe, reliable trip to the airport. I don’t think $15 is a lot and I’d still use it if it was $25 (like at Narita or Brisbane etc). The airport portion of the line should be paid off (as much as possible) by airport users. Taxi costs are a red herring.

  13. Ben Sandilands


    Um, none under the present Federal government, and only a vague promise of action under the one that follows, since Hockey will with mock horror discover the $70 billion Abbott hole is real and lock up the public purse.

  14. Grimshaw Chris

    I do not understand the obsession for the a second airport in Sydney – Last year SYD handled 36 million passengers and has 3 runways yet Heathrow handles nearly twice that amount on just 2, and yes – they have a curfew too.
    As a layman, albeit with a keen interest in aviation, the answer seems simple in that the 3rd runway should be extended (either further into Botany bay, or over General Holmes Drive, or both) to handle all types of aircraft, and the East / West runway decommissioned to provide additional terminal space. In addition to this the squadron of private jets (as you so aptly put it) be re-located to Bankstown.
    To think that any NSW government could organise the building of a new airport, when they cant even build a proper air-train (AKA Hong Kong, Heathrow, etc) to the existing airport is simply beyond belief. Lets face it, the NSW Government’s total contribution to public transport in the year or so since they have been in power is a trial of quiet coaches on the Central Coast line!
    And why would you want to build an airport in Badgerey Creek or Wilton when all the associated infrastructure is available at Mascot – but I dont suppose common sense will ever purvey in Sydney when it comes to transport .
    Oh, and by the way it took 3 years 4 months to widen the M7 between Campbeltown and Ingleburn – It took closer to seven years to build it all the way to the M7!

  15. Aidan Stanger

    Australia could save tens of billions of dollars by telling Sydney, and its current Premier Barry O’Farrell, that it will get not one dollar more than is mathematically due to it from the GST allocations and tax revenues directly reflecting its economic activity, which relative to the rest of the country, is in a death spiral.

    Alas you overestimate the rest of the country. Mining ensures Queensland and WA are doing ok, but the Reserve Bank regard any success as evidence of inflation and try to sabotage it. And Sydney’s not alone in its infrastructure shortcomings: Brisbane can’t deal with the rain it gets, Melbourne doesn’t have a railway to its airport, Canberra doesn’t even have a railway to its CBD! Adelaide’s railways don’t properly penetrate its CBD – indeed there are no rail or road tunnels at all on the Adelaide plains. And because the SA government put its trust in some incompetent British consultants, they’ve committed the state to moving the Royal Adelaide Hospital to an inferior location. The best thing they could do now is cut their losses like Keneally did (even if it costs over half a gigabuck) but even though they’re a Labor government, they’ve got Liberal Party Disease – they see backing down as weakness and try to avoid it at all costs.

  16. Liam

    Chris – Heathrow does have certain advantages not afforded to Sydney however, such as five terminals, the added bays reducing what would otherwise be nightmarish tarmac congestion. Not to mention a softer curfew that allows certain aircraft to land outside of hours and four other airports nearby.

  17. Mr Tank

    God you lot are far too serious! Good One Ben – perhaps we could tow the place out to sea and throw Queenslanders at it.

  18. fractious

    @ Liam, yes, the cap/ curfew at LHR and terminal capacity at SYD was something I was wondering about elsewhere.

  19. patrick kilby

    I was a little taken by those who argue for Canberra by saying it takes an hour to Heathrow, Melbourne and Paris so get over it. Rather selective choosing of routes and times. The (rather expensive ) Airport Express to Heathrow takes 15-20 minutes; the bus Southern Cross to Melbourne is also 20 minutes, so I am not sure why an hour, and I suspect close to $100 each way, on the train will make Canberra attractive as an alternative

  20. NeoTheFatCat

    A second Sydney Airport, or an expanded Sydney Airport, will never happen. Politicians are now so risk averse that they want to avoid creating any losers at all. And when things start to fall apart, our great multi-level system of government means they an simply shift the blame to someone else.

    We, the community, are equally to blame. We want the Government to deliver a never-ending series of services and riches, without paying a single extra in tax or tolls, with nearly-mandatory tax cuts but reserve the right to whinge when something impacts on us. I think Sydneysiders underestimate the extent to which their current lifestyles and benefits are underpinned by the infrastructure decisions of the past.

  21. wordfactory

    Even though Anthony Albanese said in a radio interview about a month ago that he would produce a decision on a second Sydney airport in the current government term (i.e., by November 2013), a rational decision on the issue cannot be made in Canberra while Labor has to ask permission from the Greens, who want commercial aviation abolished, or at least rolled back to the 1940s through suffocating taxation. Meanwhile, Barry O’Farrell is petrified that what happened to Queensland Labor will happen to him if he changes his pre-election opposition to a second airport in the Sydney basin. Ben and NeoTheFatCat are right: Sydney will get what it wants, i.e. no action and a licence to print money in perpetuity for the worst unregulated monopoly in Australia – which is saying something, as Australia is full of such out-of-control money-making scams. Sydney will become the rustbucket capital. The locals voted for it; if they don’t like it, they should leave. Many probably will.

  22. fractious

    Politicians are now so risk averse that they want to avoid creating any losers at all.

    True, but I would have thought that with the significant majority the Lib-Nat coalition has in NSW and all the anti-Labor sentiment that got it there, O’Farrell has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make some big decisions, get some big projects underway and not have to worry too much about losing a seat or two. But in the end O’Farrell and his governmentm like Labor before them, are too gutless, chinless and spineless to take on anything that even hints at needing some kind of long-term vision.

    @ wordfactory – I’m a rusted-on Greens voter, but disagree with many Greens MP’s stance on things like this. Increased air travel is an inevitability, and in my view the Greens MPs need to accept that and make sure they use their influence to make any second airport proposal as environmentally sound as possible.

  23. scotth

    The reason why Federal govt won’t let this go, is that NSW is still the largest contributor to national GDP. Just some figures to help;
    NSW $107 690million
    VIC 84 282m
    QLD 75 943m
    WA 48 050m
    SA 22 441m
    ACT 11 688m
    TAS 7 003m
    NT 5 228m

    So despite the mining boom, and the two-speed economy, WA is still contributing less than half what NSW does, if we cross reference that against population, it becomes clear why increase capacity is needed for the Sydney area.

    NSW Treasury have a fascination with PPPs and not spending public money on public transport project regardless of what the politicians come up with. So if the second airport is going to be paid for by someone else, it just comes down to popular politics and holding onto marginal seats.

  24. Graeme Harrison

    Wilton Far Superior to Badgerys
    Ben, I was co-author of the Sydney Airport Community Forum (SACF) Inc report “The Way Forward” of 1999 that first proposed Wilton as the prime choice for Sydney’s second airport. That report is still available on-line at

    The issues that caused us to rank Wilton well ahead of Badgerys were:
    1. Wilton affects 15-20x fewer people than Badgerys, and 100x fewer than continued expansion of KSA+Bankstown;
    2. At 300m elevation, Wilton does not suffer from fog or persistent smog retention, like Badgerys;
    3. A curfew was deemed necessary at Badgerys, whereas Wilton is the nearest 24-hour airport site;
    4. Wilton is slightly farther, but with existing freeways, the travel time to the city is the same as Badgerys;
    5. Wilton’s proximity to the M5 (5km) and XPT rail (9km) saves $1b in new surface infrastructure compared to Badgerys.

    The Wilton flightpaths cross creeks only downstream of each catchment dam. It’s not true to suggest drinking water will be affected. Some piping is needed to bypass open-creek water transfers, at a cost of 0.1% of the likely project cost. The benefit is that all loud noise is over truly uninhabited state land.

    Let’s make use of the bi-partisan support of Albanese and Hockey to finally act. Wilton was the alternative site for KSA, had KSA been bombed during WW2. By 1985, it was ranked equal-first by the Departmental Report for Sydney’s Second Airport. This decision should come as a surprise to no-one.
    Graeme Harrison, Chair, Sydney Airport Community Forum (SACF) Inc
    (prof at-symbol post.harvard.edu)

  25. Ben Sandilands


    Are you suggesting that your report is more relevant today to that of the NSW/Federal steering committee that recommended Badgerys Creek and the adjacent Nepean area as the best option 13 years later?

    Do you have such a contempt for the rights of people who have bought houses on a site not reserved for an airport, while those who have built adjacent to Badgerys Creek have been aware of the risk of an airport being built there, however they might doubt that it will even happen.

    We are talking about persecuting thousands of people and visiting ruin on their plans in preference to telling those who knowingly moved to the vicinity of Badgerys Creek that the time has come, as was the case at Tullamarine incidentally. The same gamble, and the same potential outcome.

    Badgerys Creek has always been reserved for a 24 hour airport. Your study sought a curfew. I disagree with your comments about surface infrastructure. Are you another person who has no idea what is actually being built in the SW Rail project, which ends a few kilometres at most from the a future Badgers Creek airport. I recommend doing some field research as to the respective realities of Badgerys Creek and Wilton.

  26. Graeme Harrison

    Sydney Airport Community Forum (SACF) Inc is a peak community body, formed at the instigation of then Member for Lowe, Paul Zammit MP. It brought together some 70 different community groups from across the Sydney basin.

    We assessed ALL of the sites of the 1985 Kinhill Stearns report, and gave them a proper assessment as to resident impact, aviation suitability and costs. It was clear even in 1998 when we were doing these detailed assessments that the Federal government was acting way too late to have few residents around Badgerys. In the 80s and 90s people had built houses right up to the very end of the proposed runways. All the Feds had done in the early 80s was buy the actual land for the airport, and had done nothing in land-use planning guidelines to prevent incompatible development in what would be extreme ANEF noise corridors. We favoured Wilton for those reasons – Wilton was (is) all state land, with only tens of houses directly under the flightpaths within 10km of either end of the proposed runways. The figure is only a few thousand residents ‘moderately impacted’, compared to the 1m+ with continued use of KSA, or c1.5m by continued expansion of KSA+Bankstown.

    The Howard government pushed on with Badgerys regardless of impact, for the sole reason that the land was already owned by the Commonwealth, and it affected only Labor seats. But the Wilton land was already owned by the state, so there is little difference in regards to public land ownership. [The Feds could make a very handsome profit by selling off the Badgerys land now.]

    Moreover, the Badgerys’ EIS was a disgrace, as pointed out by Snowy Mountains Engineering as official auditor of the work. The EIS used fog monitoring figures which started at 9am and ended at 3pm. Most winter fog in Sydney’s West clears by about 9am. Were they seriously expecting the airport to have no operations earlier than 9am? Badgerys is hopelessly fog-affected.

    The bigger issue that was not made clear anywhere in the EIS was that Badgerys was the WORST spot to locate a point-source of what would become 4-5% of Sydney’s total pollution. [That is the percentage that a major city’s airport produces of the city’s overall air pollution.] The maps which show air circulation in the Sydney air basin make it clear that any pollution generated in that area stays locked in by the Blue Mountains and swirls around the SW portion of the Sydney air basin for days (sometimes held by an inversion layer), so we all get to breath it. In comparison, Wilton is within the Sydney water basin but outside the Sydney air basin. At 300m elevation, Wilton does not suffer from fog nor any persistent smog retention.

    You suggest that the amount of ‘prior notice’ is an important issue. Well Wilton was the FIRST nominated alternative to KSA. It was the official strip to be used if KSA was bombed during WW2. Then the Dept of Aviation report of 1985 had it listed ‘equal-first’ with Badgerys. Our report of 1999 then recommended it as the prime site for consideration. You may believe that I “have no idea” about certain things, but Minister Albanese and the Department clearly picked up on the sensible recommendations in our 1999 Report (which we considered to be ‘the alternative EIS for Badgerys’). Our 1999 report was formally sent to Wollondilly Council in 1999. I also phoned Wollondilly Council a decade ago to suggest that their website was “grossly misleading” for omitting all references to Wilton as a preferred site for Sydney’s Second Airport. However, Wollondilly’s planning documents continued to make no mention of the fact, simply because those at the top of the Council did not want to consider the possibility. If you have any issue, it is with the Council for wilfully misleading its residents over the matter. As the Mayor of Wollondilly said yesterday (13apr12) on ABC radio “I thought the whole airport thing had gone away years ago.” That is typical of the Alice-in-Wonderland thinking in that Council.

    You’ve also suggested that it was our report which ’caused’ the curfew on Badgerys. That is simply not true. It was the independent assessment of the Federal Dept of Environment which caused then Environment Minister Kemp to determine that a curfew would be needed at Badgerys, as despite urging from his Howard cabinet colleagues, Kemp could not bring himself to entirely ignore the validly-prepared departmental assessment. [I won’t return your ad hominen attack regarding “who has no idea”, but rather leave readers to assess whose facts are correct.]

    Our 1999 report (based on census data and proposed ANEF noise contours) assessed Badgerys as having 15x more ‘people X exposure_level’ than Wilton. As Badgerys has continued to be built-out, whereas Wilton has primarily uninhabited state land on both ends of runways, this has probably grown to >20x by now. Moreover, the Badgerys’ EIS assumed complex curving flightpaths to avoid the major population centres around Penrith and Liverpool. But as soon as Badgerys had first-stage expansion (to parallel runways), such ‘avoidance’ would need to end for air-safety reasons. So the true number of residents to be moderately affected by Badgerys was much higher than disclosed.

    And even the current residents of Wilton will not lose out, as some would have you believe. The actual site is 5km to the South of the township, with both widely-spaced parallel runways oriented ENE-WSW. That puts the township in a quite low ANEF, suitable for housing. But if they want to relocate, their land values will shoot up, due to proximity to the airport!

    The only real ‘losers’ in a Wilton site are the big donors to the O’Farrell government – the large developers who had their sights set on getting rezoning (not yet done) for some large tracts of land (mainly state-owned) for housing estates, to hold 15,000+ homes. That should simply not go ahead. The state has many other areas it can release for housing without ruining the suitability of the closest 24-hour airport to Sydney. The only people affected by routine overflights will be c1000 people near Bargo at 15km to WSW and fewer-still near Stanwell Tops at >35km from the airport. Compared to KSA, this is like clearing the 4m+ people out of Sydney but for leaving only 1400 at Leichhardt and a similar number scattered around Pymble. So let’s just compensate the 1400 (guaranteed buy-back scheme for their houses if they elect to sell within three years).

    The former chief economist of Qantas wrote an article during the week in the Fairfax ‘Business Day’ publication suggesting that the ONLY issue to determine a new airport was ROI on existing assets versus cost of financing a new asset. He clearly placed no value on flying over 100x more people from KSA versus Wilton. He saw the world as one where we should put zero value on environmental impact and people’s lives. Our SACF Inc work always took into account airport operations, which is why we favoured (and still do) a site suitable for 24-hour operations; took into account environmental impact (as the Feds didn’t when they owned the land already); and took into account overall costs, such as differences in surface infrastructure.

    As to your thinking that I/we do not understand surface infrastructure, the ‘additional’ cost of outside-the-site surface infrastructure was assessed (by PPK not SACF Inc) at $1b for Badgerys 13 years ago. It needs a new major expresssway heading South from the M4, a new railway line and an oil pipeline. In comparison, the Wilton site is incredibly close to the existing/upgraded M5 (actually called ‘Hume Highway’ at that point) and needs only a feeder road from the existing Wilton off-ramp. And the main Sydney-Melbourne XPT-upgraded rail line is just to the West of the M5 at that point. And this is before ‘the Picton bends’ of that line, so it is all suitable (‘now’) for high speed (though not VFT speeds) services direct to Sydney. The oil pipeline could be fed from Port Kembla.

    Had the Central Coast LGAs wanted the jobs associated with a new airport, Somersby (on high plateau just North of crossing Hawkesbury River) was quite a suitable site, identified since at least 1985, though the far more distant Warnervale/Wallerah site the LGAs preferred is not as suitable, due to >100km road distance from CBD.

    Ben, when I interviewed Laurie Brereton (former Minister for Aviation) on the issue of Badgerys in 1997, he regretted not ‘turning the first sod’, when he was originally asked to do so. His issue was that the Department of Aviation had planned a tiny/useless strip for the area in the early 1980s. So he instructed the Department to go back and plan a proper airport for the site. THAT was the missed opportunity. Had Badgerys started up (even small), the land-use planning would not have remained antithetical to a major airport eventually growing on the site. But you, like he, have to ‘get over it’ – two decades of poor land-use planning is what killed Badgerys, and we can’t re-live the 1980s (though Howard tried). But in fact, Wilton IS better, for the primary reason that we are lessening Sydney’s overall smog by 5% eventually. And freighters ought to be able to land and take-off at any hour, affecting 100-times fewer people than at present.

    I have argued that the answer lies in building the widely-spaced (1600m separation) parallel/long (4000m) runways at Wilton, then slowly relocating Customs and Immigration to that site. This would ‘re-open’ KSA to service rural NSW. So people from regional centres could fly to Sydney for a day for a business meeting or to see a specialist, and fly home on the same day. KSA ought then (like National Airport in Washington) be limited to short-haul flights. That means less congestion, less noise pollution etc. But for business people, if you want to fly Sydney to/from another Australian or NZ destination, the airport will remain close to the city for the foreseeable future. And the flights will not be delayed due to the airport working near capacity. And if you are flying overseas (excluding NZ), then the 30-40 minute train to Wilton is not a large impost on your overall travel time, as you’ll be in the air for 5-20 hours anyway.

    It would be better if everyone who wants a second airport (as surely KSA will grind to a halt, no matter what SACL currently claim to retain their monopoly)… got behind the bipartisanship of Albanese+Hockey to support them. In 30 years we have not had bipartisan support for a site, so we should jump on it. Albanese wants a solution for his long-suffering electorate near KSA. Hockey can see that the Liberal electorates like his, will soon be heavily impacted by KSA. The Howard government went to so much trouble to avoid these electorates with complex fly-around flightpaths (LTOP), but as the airport hits capacity, such avoidance becomes impossible.

  27. Graeme Harrison

    Sorry Ben, I never explicitly answered your issue regarding the Glenfield-Leppington railway extension. Using Googlemaps, the distance from North Leppington to Badgerys Creek airport site is still 11.6km (as the crow flies) from the end of this new ‘spur’, compared to 5.4km from Wilton site to main North-South rail line. The proposed runway length for Wilton is 4km (Kinhill 1985), so the distance to existing high-capacity heavy rail is barely a runway length.
    But the issue for Badgerys is not cost of infrastructure, but the tens of thousands of houses built around the site, and the fact that it is the worst spot for an airport for Sydney’s overall air quality.
    And politically, the Badgerys fight was fought and lost 12 years ago.
    The Wilton one is now just starting to heat up, and can be won, for the reasons I expressed above.
    Let’s remember that the ‘worst outcome’ is KSA – a hundred times worse, in fact!

  28. Ben Sandilands


    Thanks for your detailed reply. I’m not able to access the internet for much of today, but this is an opportunity for only a brief contribution to the discussion.

    Fog is not an issue for modern airports anywhere. The hardware for Category III landings is present at some major Australian airports and can be activated with the metaphorically speaking, type of operation changes that render an aircraft delivered for ETOPS180 approved for ETOPS180. Metaphorically speaking. Cat 111 wasn’t approved for Perth airport some years ago when Qantas made a Cat 111 landing in a fuel emergency.

    Access. I think it absurd to talk about the infrastructure advantages as claimed for Wilton when the SW Rail link will go almost all the way to Badgerys Creek, and is in effect an extension of the existing Airport Line, and is taking form as we furiously tap our keyboards.

    The fueling issue is similarly ridiculous as an objection. Building fuel access is the normal part of running an airport, or the dozens of trucking depots in western Sydney. I think western Sydney has mastered fuel requirements on an industrial level.

    Incidentally you are completely out of date regarding DCA (Washington DC). You need to get into 2012, not stay in 1999.

  29. Graeme Harrison

    Ben, I’ve always held the view that ‘ad hominem’ attacks are undertaken by those who’ve run out of valid arguments. Let’s play the ball not the man! Besides it denigrates Crikey to have its own contributors stoop to this level. Make your point, and leave opinions on whether another poster is ignorant or out-of-date implied (only).

    The big argument in Washington DC when considering building a green-fields new outer-airport (Dulles International) was that the politicians themselves were the biggest single users of the in-close beside-the-Potomac National Airport. [I also regularly used it when I served as a Harvard consultant to The White House.] The only way to obtain the decision-makers’ support for the new airport was to leave the older/closer one in place and allocate it to shorter-haul distances (originally primarily East Coast flights or non-widebodies to farther destinations). Of course, in practice, the lines get blurred a little. Indeed short-haul flights are also needed at the international airport, to provide transfers for international passengers. But the overall effect was that it DID dramatically limit the noise over DC residents, compared to the continued growth of using only National Airport.

    That would be my hope for KSA+Wilton+Bankstown operation. You do need to keep some immigration services at the inner airport (for NZ in particular). But freighters, older/noisier aircraft, during-curfew services and the largest aircraft could all be relocated to the ‘main’ international airport at Wilton. Besides, with even a Hazmat incident on a runway at KSA, or terrorist threat, let alone an actual (even minor) crash, we need a runway closer than Canberra where wide-bodied aircraft & A380s can land.

    I was very disappointed that the government allowed SACL to ‘rebuild’ the main runway, including strengthening the part over the road tunnel under KSA’s runways, in order to accept the heavier axle loads of the A380, as that was relatively expensive, and those costs could have gone a reasonable way towards building a single runway at Wilton. Coincidentally, IMHO it would have been in SACL’s interest to have taken this approach, as it would have cemented SACL as owning both Sydney airports, compared to the current situation where SACL only has an option to build (provided it is within 100km).

    Even with instrument landings, fog does remain an issue for airport siting, as evidenced by all the earlier studies. I was only commenting on the fact that the data used in the Badgerys EIS was intentionally misleading. We generally have such clear skies in Australia, that it is not worthwhile choosing a fog-bound location for an airport, when non-fog-affected sites are available. Personally, I think that the air-quality for the whole Sydney air basin is a more important issue. But on top of all that, the 100x resident affectation is the BIGGEST issue (IMHO).

    I was happy to set out some of the major issues distinguishing Wilton from Badgerys, so your readers would be informed. I think Barry O’Farrell’s claim that he should not impose another airport on another group of Sydney residents falls flat when you consider that just 1% of people would be affected, compared to KSA+Bankstown. It is not an issue of same impact on another group, it is two-orders of magnitude less impact overall, so easily managed. The government could not afford to compensate all those affected by KSA noise, but it could easily look after the very few who would be impacted by Wilton. The reality is that he knows Sydney needs a second airport, but he has his election commitments to motorways, so he is hanging out for an offer from the Feds to pay for it entirely! If Albanese made that case clear, I think O’Farrell would offer up the state land at Wilton in an instant! Better still, the Feds could even appease the NSW Liberal donors (and hence O’Farrell) by offering a straight land-swap of the Badgerys site for the Wilton one. The large-scale home builders would actually prefer Badgerys for homes, due to proximity to schools, services etc. That would be a simple deal! It would save the Feds paying twice for land; get NSW on-board; appease the donors; lock-in the lowest-resident-number site; and fast-track it while bipartisan support. The Feds could offer to pay for the rail, road and pipeline links, as part of the $5b project, with NSW having to pay for enclosed piping for transfer of water from the catchment dams (to avoid open-creek transfers of drinking water under flightpaths). Then the Feds could bundle that up, and offer SACL a deal to repay a flat $5b (irrespective of final actual cost) over 10-years at Federal bond rate, so cheap financing for SACL to also be on-board. ACCC should then insist that SACL needs to split shares into two entities to have full competition (not notional) between Sydney’s airports. SACL shareholders still do very well from hive-off float, with cheap Fed funding of infrastructure.

  30. Ben Sandilands


    This is another brief opportunity to be on-line for me today. The strengthening of the runway over General Holmes Drive was fascinating because it was discovered that it was originally designed on the basis of a 747 using it at close to an MTOW of 750,000 but that the planning vision had been overtaken by 747s regularly using it at more than 900,000 lbs, I think the -400ER had an MTOW in excess of 919,000 lbs. I wrote it up from memory for the AFR or Crikey. In any event, whatever the needs of the A380, which actually has a lower individual wheel loading because of the bogey design, but a higher total main gear loading, the road tunnel strengthening was justified to cope with contemporary high weight 747s not envisaged when the tunnel was built in the late 60s.

    I don’t think I have internet access again until tomorrow morning eastern Australian time.

  31. Aidan Stanger

    Graeme Harrison, considering that stretch of the Hume Highway is the main route to Canberra and to Melbourne and to Adelaide, surely the Wilton airport site’s proximity to it is a disadvantage, as overloading it would have severe knockon effects?

  32. Graeme Harrison

    No, you do want a new airport to be close to the existing freeway network. I understand your argument that it might add to the loading, but the newly-widened M5 (ten lanes in parts) from Liverpool to Campbelltown has capacity, and link to M7 link to Western suburbs (and even orbital for NW suburbs) is good basis for ancillary mini-bus services to an airport at Wilton. The M5 West is about to be widened also. The duplication of the M5 East is before Infrastructure NSW for consideration.

    But remember that any second airport will start off with only a third of the 747s and A380s currently operating out of KSA, so road traffic will not be that large in the initial years. Over time the 1m inner city residents affected by KSA would like to see all large or noisy planes relocated to ‘the international airport’ (ie Wilton). That would allow KSA to be operated in SODPROPS modes – landings from over Botany Bay on one of the parallel runways, while taking off over the bay using the other parallel runway. These SODPROPS modes have been used only 1% of the time at KSA over the past decade, as any 747 or A380 causes them to be stopped. The big jets can’t use the third runway to take-over over the bay, as they need more roll distance (ie the longer runway), whereas SODPROPS works best when you reserve the longer runway for landings (as everything smaller than 747/A380 is able to take-off from a far shorter runway than the pilot would like for landing (because you might not be on the perfect approach angle, or the plane might ‘float’ along on ‘ground effect’ for some distance before actual touch-down, or there might be some issue in braking etc…) So pilots will often reject the nomination of a shorter runway for landing, and it is the prerogative of the pilot to reject the runway a flight controller has nominated…. which in KSA’s case causes mayhem and a huge increase in unnecessary risk, as planes are put in holding patterns and the ‘mode’ of the airport is changed.

    Indeed in 1996 a ‘safety audit’ of the modes was promised as part of the introduction of LTOP (the currently-used ‘modes’)…. but that ‘safety audit’ has NEVER been performed, primarily because the authorities know that any proper review will reject the unnecessary additional risks introduced during modal changes. During the Howard government years (ie decade from LTOP introduction to electoral loss in 2007) everyone knew not to push the issue of a ‘safety audit’ as rejection of LTOP on safety grounds would immediately put far greater noise back onto Liberal electorates. The whole point of LTOP was to ‘turn the airport around’ to land from over the bay whenever possible, and to introduce complex curved flightpaths and convoluted modes to direct all take-off noise onto Labor electorates. Indeed almost no take-offs “to the North” cross the harbour, as South of the harbour are Labor electorates, while North of the harbour are Liberal electorates. All but the most heavily-laden planes destined to the US West coast turn West from KSA, fly out to Parramatta, then North to Castle Hill, then head NE to the US.

    Arguably the best move Albanese can now do is to order the ‘safety audit’ which was guaranteed to the people as part of the EIS for LTOP. That would put ‘the cat amongst the pigeons’, in terms of international consultants likely rejecting the LTOP on safety grounds, causing Liberals (including Premier O’Farrell) to think how the noise from KSA will become politically unbearable. That would cause O’Farrell to rethink his current position against a second airport. And because the Badgerys fight was fought 13 years ago and lost, it will soon become apparent that Wilton is the answer.

    Of course the real answer regarding freeways to the SW of Sydney is to encourage SW residents and airport users onto an improved rail network. The stations are right in the population centres – it is just that the service levels need to be improved. And we need to cancel the Bob Carr ‘cashback bribe’ and set a prison term for any future premier who does such a thing. A major reason the M5 has been so congested is because the ‘charge’ people were meant to be paying was cancelled by Bob to win a seat out there. There are only two ways you can pay for sparse spots on busy roads at peak hour – with time or with money. Putting the toll up a bit is the best solution, as the tradespeople who need their truck all day will stay on the road, happy to pay a higher toll for a faster trip; while the uni student is ‘induced’ to catch the train. Currently train tickets cost more than the petrol in a fuel-efficient car. Public transport will never be more convenient than private car, so public transport fares should be priced beneath private car marginal usage costs. Every study CityRail does compares train ticket prices to full fixed-cost-recovery of private car use. They assume the alternative is to sell your car. But let’s assume people keep their cars – we just want them to leave the car at home, so public transport must be significantly cheaper than just the marginal costs (petrol+toll) of private car usage. And if that means that each person in a car is in effect paying for the spot on the train that they are not using, then so be it. There is an economic benefit to them paying for the train seat for the uni student, or office worker, to halve the number of cars on the freeway at peak time.

  33. Ben Sandilands


    Reality seems to differ from some of your statements.

    In no particular order, can you indicate for those who regularly drive the M5 where the five lanes across sections are? We need them. There are places where merging lanes will give you five lanes, indeed I have seen people try to make them six lanes across which is pretty damn scary, but for a pathetically short distance it is mainly 8 lanes in total across both carriageways.

    Where did you place the Badgerys Creek terminal when you claimed 11.4 kilometres from Leppington? The northern boundary, or what? The entire project length is just over 11 kilometres from Glenfields not counting the Rossmore marshaling yard. The entire length of the existing rail line from Central through the Airport to Glenfields is just over 33 kilometres, a statistic an occasional visitor here from the No Noise Party seems unaware of, just as much as he is totally unaware of block speeds on the city network, or the noise cause by high speed rail trains.

    The so called 3rd runway at Sydney Airport has now taken A330s, both -300s and -200s, on a number of occasions without drama, other than a lot of care at the taxiway turns at the northern end of the runway. These aircraft are capable of shorter/equal runway performance to the 767s which use the runway on a high frequency basis, but which are much better at handling the taxiways with a lesser wingspan.

    The A380 doesn’t require a longer runway than other jets of size, indeed modest size, and in real life uses around 30% less runway than a 747-400 to become airborne unless you tell it to use as little fuel as possible. You could update your knowledge of the A380 by watching two videos in particular on You Tube, one of the test flight of a 569 tonnes departure in 2007 non-stop to Vancouver from Sydney that took off toward Botany Bay and was airborne before the intersection and then flew for 15 hours 45 minutes including an extended routing, just as was the case on the JNB-SYD leg, a higher altitude hot takeoff which was directed to over fly the Amundsen-Scott base at 90 degrees S just to add to the test before heading toward Sydney. The other was the first Qantas commercial flight from MEL to LAX, count the seconds from brake release, it was airborne in 23 seconds.

    I’m fascinated by the train ticket petrol cost comparison too. I don’t think it currently applies per ordinary car versus a single adult full fare on the network. Train patronage has visibly soared and I believe cost is only part of the equation, as there is about one internet connected laptop for every four occupied seats on the trips I’m taking, all turning a bad rail experience in terms of slow travel times into a productive and connected communications experience, and only two short sections of tunnel no longer keep the signal, and you can work all the way through the metropolitan underground, or at least, that has been my experience.

    I think that as a general principle, allowing competition between two or more airports in a city is the right principle. We can save the costs of bureaucracy or citizens committees trying to dictate to what would most likely be entirely different owners as to who they could allow to be their customers, avoiding a restraint of trade but more importantly eliminating the risk of collaborative or officially sanctioned restrictive pricing.

    It might also open the legal possibility that Sydney Airport could sue for the right to abandon the runway cap in order to compete on an equal footing with the other airport.

    If the traffic forecasts for the future are only half right over a period of 20 years Sydney Airport and another to the west or further south west are all going to need to be free to use the best available technology to deliver safe and efficient, and high frequency runway use.

  34. Elton timjack

    Fantastic Blog, Ben… great read!

  35. john2066

    Neo at comment 20 is spot on.

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