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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.

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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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