Nov 30, 2012

Sydney Airport curfew campaign could hold city back

Vested interest media alert. Why the agitation to drop the Sydney Airport curfew may not be everything it seems, and not very good for air travel either.

Ben Sandilands — Editor of Plane Talking

Ben Sandilands

Editor of Plane Talking

It is timely to ask what Sydney would gain if its jet curfew was eased to allow very quiet new technology airliners all night access if it prevents or further delays the building of a second airport at the Commonwealth owned site at Badgerys Creek, or its semi-official adjacent and larger ‘Nepean’ site?

The Telegraph has been publishing articles in favour of lifting the curfew which are accurate and eloquent on the topic, and widely liked in airline, business community and tourism circles.

The stories should also make it clear to NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell, who insists that the Asian century should access Sydney via a fast rail service to a Canberra Airport he has just crippled with a housing estate approval across the border near Queanbeyan, that he is on the losing end of growing public acceptance of a link between efficient air services and jobs and prosperity.

On to put it in simple terms. Noise politics is losing momentum. Cities are places where people ‘commit’ economic activity, which can cause noise. Get over it.

However the ending or easing of the Sydney Airport jet curfew has always been one of two planks of its owner’s argument against the loss of their monopoly pricing power should a second airport go ahead, and especially one now well placed to meet the economic growth of western Sydney.

That other plank is to abolish the capacity cap, that limits Sydney Airport no matter how many runways or terminals it might have, to no more than a combined 80 arrivals or departures an hour.

Sydney Airport has the technological facts on its side in both cases. Airbus A380s, Boeing 787s, and the new engine technologies being offered on new versions of the A320 and 737 families, as well as all new jets like the Bombardier CSeries, the 777-x and the A350, are much quieter than the noise from trains, main roads, and for that matter, even minor routes clogged by motorists trying to avoid the major roads during what are expanding hours of peak demand by commuters and delivery vehicles.

However the Badgerys Creek site, like Melbourne’s major airport at Tullamarine, has its 24 hour access for jet airliners protected by law against future demands for curfews from future or pre-existing residential developments.

A second Sydney airport not only avoids the political resistance to an easing or abolition of the existing airport’s curfew, but would cater for growing demand for air services in the western and northwestern parts of greater Sydney that are currently adding to chronic surface access congestion to Sydney Airport today, and which also frustrates traffic that has to pass anywhere near that airport to get to or from work, including by rail.

Badgerys Creek could not just break the current airport’s pricing monopoly (unless it exercises its first right of refusal to build the 2nd Sydney basin airport) but provide the capacity that is needed to deal with the economic realities of the early 21st century.

It would be a shame if the impetus to build this airport was diminished by an almost certainly fruitless campaign to allow all night flights that would not solve the interstate or rural needs for air services to Sydney during business hours.

Nor would a curfew free Kingsford Smith airport serve the city’s interests very far into the future given growth from all points.

The stated aim of the current owners of Sydney Airport is to sell it at the right price, as soon as possible. To that end, they need to present potential new owners with what appears to be a watertight monopoly supported by  claims, however rubbery, that curfew and capacity limit constraints will somehow be removed enabling them to service the finance obligations such a high asking price would entail.

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10 thoughts on “Sydney Airport curfew campaign could hold city back

  1. Cat on a PC©

    Lifting of the curfew won’t only benefit Sydney Airport; it will also mean more opportunities for flights between SYD-MEL benefitting the latter as well. But lifting the curfew and removing movement restrictions will only be a short term solution and would just delay the inevitable.

  2. jm

    The other matter to consider is the artificial cap on movements per hour.

  3. gapot

    When Macquarie trumped all other bidders for SYD by a big margin the alarm bells should have been ringing in Canberra. If you bid a very high price for a monopoly airport it means that the conditions of the sale are pretty much non existant. Now that they want to sell out you can bet that people in high places who write the rules are being showered with christmas presents.

  4. fractious

    If I’ve got this wrong please correct me, but isn’t the other problem lack of physical space at Kingsford Smith? If the cap and/ or cufew were lifted where do they propose to park all the extra planes – Brisbane? It’ll be the aviation equivalent of driving up and down Sussex Street at 10.00am on weekdays.

  5. Ben Sandilands

    Not wrong at all. The only way the terminal and parking space issues could be resolved is to increase the area of the airport by filling in more of Botany Bay probably to the west of the main north-south runway, which is unlikely, or by sinking part of the roadway defining the northern boundary of the airport together with the rail line that goes to Port Botany, and bridging over that infrastructure onto land purchased further to the north.

    The airport owners did this in a small way some years ago by buying a small area on which to stack cargo containers, and if my recollection of the last time I saw it is correct, some of those containers are also rail/truck sized and the area is used an interchange.

  6. Robert

    Speaking as a NIMBY, living directly north of the main runway, extended curfew hours would be hell.

    Sure, the new jets are quieter. BUT! At 3am, when there’s nothing else to mask the sound, a jet taking off over you is in incredible disruption.

    I have no problem with looking up, at 5:55am, and thinking “the man in 22K hasn’t put his tray table up” but 11pm-6am curfew needs to stay and the alternatives properly considered.

  7. johnb78

    I’ve never understood the logic behind the movements cap. For the reasons Robert lists, the curfew is clearly beneficial to local residents – but how does it make any difference to quality of life during operating hours whether you’ve got a plane passing over every 50 seconds versus one every 40 seconds?

  8. Aidan Stanger

    Robert, there is the possibility of the curfew being relaxed for planes taking off to the souith.

    johnb78, it can make quite a lot of difference – firstly giving your ears tie to recover and secondly reducing the amount of available time for people to talk without the distractio of a low flying aircraft overhead!

    Though if it were really as frequent as every 40 or 50 seconds you’d have a point.

    What really doesn’tmake any sense at all is delaying aircraft in order to comply with the cap. It should only affect when they’re booked to arrive and depart,not ehen they actually do.

  9. William Tyndale

    The SYD curfew is always good for a media run, and a few locals get air time to say that they need more sleep. What these locals never seem to say, and maybe some of them don’t know, is that for years jet freighter aircraft have operated in and out of Mascot during curfew hours and between 5am and 6 am there are a number of international arrivals permitted. All of these operate over Botany Bay and engine reverse thrust (noise) is not permitted. Maybe the point has been proved that international arrivals could operate from 4 am in a similar way and nobody would know.
    So far as expanding aircraft parking spaces go, part of the site you mentioned Ben to the north of the airport does have a reservation through it for whenever the F6 freeway might be extended into the city.
    Just recently there was a story about getting rid of the Orica storage site at Banksmeadow, east of the airport. It so happens that the site is flanked mostly by golf courses to the north and industrial sites to the south BUT within its boundary is space enough to have a third parallel runway which could well serve all regional aircraft operations in and out of Sydney. With Wentworth Avenue right there on the northern boundary there is only 1km to drive to get on or off Southern Cross Drive to get people quickly to or from the city, or to the existing airport terminals.
    But that would take some government initiative and planning, wouldn’t it?
    Then there’s Badgery’s Creek as the possible second airport site. As you say Ben lots of people drive past that site to get to or from Mascot, however, as you also say most international visitors (which outnumber the locals by a big bit) want to be in the city so Mascot every time will be their preferred arrival and departure point.

  10. Robert

    William – you’re spot-on about increasing arrivals over the bay. The current four international flights are not disruptive and these could be increased PROVIDED any change in the weather conditions sent the flights to CBR or MEL instead of having them land over scores of thousands of people.

    The old system of allowing flights over residential areas due to “passenger hardship” saw take-offs after midnight and landings after 2am for aircraft much noisier than the current versions. The increase in yuppies and nimbys in the inner west will make life harder for the local MPs will make for some interesting protests if curfew really is reviewed.

    The airport has many disadvantages and easing curfew is a seriously flawed band-aid. By all means increase the daylight flights (you really don’t notice them once you get used to them) but a second airport has too many pluses for the governments to continue to ignore the proposition.

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