Jan 2, 2013

Who is compromised by what in Sydney Airport debate?

The logical conclusion reading Tony Abbott's comments is that he couldn't find his way to western Sydney unaccompanied, has no idea what is at stake in terms of growth, jobs and future prosperity, and doesn't think other half of Sydney deserves an airport anyhow.

Ben Sandilands — Editor of Plane Talking

Ben Sandilands

Editor of Plane Talking

As predicted yesterday, after shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey cut to the heart of the matter over a 2nd Sydney Airport, it has been an entertaining but not edifying 24 hours for the major parties over the issues.

The logical conclusion reading Tony Abbott’s comments is that he couldn’t find his way to western Sydney unaccompanied, has no idea what is at stake in terms of growth, jobs and future prosperity, and doesn’t think other half of Sydney deserves an airport anyhow.

The burning issue for Labor, for which Transport and Infrastructure Minister Anthony Albanese is the spear thrower on these matters, is that it has never, ever, on the public record explained what or who it is protecting by refusing to even think about having the second airport built on the Badgerys Creek site chosen and subsequently purchased by a Labor Government in 1986.

And the problem for the state Coalition government of Premier Barry O’Farrell is that it is incredibly gullible, as shown in painful detail by its clumsy efforts to ride roughshod over its own constituents in harbourside suburbs with a floating heliport plan which turned out to be not worth the paper it was written on.

Premier O’Farrell insists that Sydney’s 2nd airport is Canberra connected to a part of it by an unbuilt, unfunded, indeed not even planned high speed rail link, but which his government will cripple by approving a housing estate at Tralee, just over the ACT border.

And he believes claims by Max Moore-Wilton that the existing airport, which is intolerably inconvenient from western Sydney, will be capable of meeting the demands of the Asia Century until at least 2049.  This is seriously daft on the Premier’s part, and poison for the future of Sydney, which will have no future if it intends to connect to Asia via trains to Canberra.

In his comments yesterday Minister Albanese mentioned a report into a possible site at Wilton being released soon. Wilton had a site that was obvious enough for it to be declared second best by the MANS or Major Airport Needs of Sydney study in 1986, after finding Badgerys Creek the preferable site.

The identified area at Wilton is now a housing estate. The adjacent  possibilities are very difficult to render practicable. However  Labor will probably insist on going ahead with it, even as the seemingly unwinable federal election draws closer, and its capacity to turn everything it touches into a shambles continues until it is removed from office.

The only good news in all of this is that in the 21st century, which Mr Abbott seems to find is about 60 years past his comfort zone, efficient and convenient air links are vital to the national economy, and as Sydney strangles itself with its hopeless transport bungles Melbourne and Brisbane can readily step up and get the job done.

But just don’t mention Melbourne’s MYKI public transport card!


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6 thoughts on “Who is compromised by what in Sydney Airport debate?

  1. iggy648

    At your age Beun, you should have learned to spell Labor

    [Akshully, I need to learn how to turn off the psell echker in WordPress as well as in Werd]

  2. iggy648

    My bad! I have an older version of Word which won’t change “Labor” to “Labour” unless I tell it to. Thanks for changing it though.

  3. fractious

    “The identified area at Wilton is now a housing estate. The adjacent possibilities are very difficult to render practicable.”

    As has been mentioned before there is a Draft Master Plan for the so-called Wilton Junction urban centre, and the Draft got (Wollondilly) Council support. The consortium of big-end developers have a website:

    A summary of the “high level” draft master plan here:

    Nowhere on these pages can I see any mention of a second airport at Wilton (I haven’t downloaded the pdf yet), nor any allowance for it on lands within the bounds of the master plan area (map on summary page), nor even any mention of it just over the fence.

    This consortium isn’t just a bunch of local hopefuls but consists of several of the big names in development (BradCorp, Walker, LendLease), so it’s very very unlikely that it hasn’t got the inside line on where state and federal governments are going with this, and I would be surprised if they didn’t already know the outcome of the latest (in a never-ending series) of “feasibility studies” into Wilton. Mind you, it is still a “Draft” master plan, and the timing of the submission to NSW Planning will be interesting…

  4. Stephen Healion

    Just a few comments after reading most of the blogs about a second airport for Sydney.

    There seems to be a mixture of confusion, ignorance, self interest and obfuscation, depending on who is commenting.

    Here are some facts.
    Both international and domestic air traffic is increasing.
    Air travel is noisy, inconvenient, extremely polluting, vulnerable to capricious weather and terrorist attack, very uncomfortable, (unless you can afford business or first class), requires the building of very expensive supporting infrastructure which causes inconvenience and congestion on suburban streets and uses much land space, not only for the airport itself but also for the supporting infrastructure.
    The bulk of the users of air travel are business, government and tourist travelers.
    The majority of these travelers want to get from city centre to city centre.

    Those are some of the facts. Now for some figures.

    The number of aircraft movements into and out of KSA each working day from and to Melbourne, Canberra, Gold Coast, Wagga Wagga, Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast is in excess of 320. This is close to 20 an hour average for the hours that KSA operates each day, but in reality the bulk occur within the five or six hours of peak travel times.

    Assuming an average passenger load of just 100, (fair enough, I think, for aircraft with a capacity of about 300), means 300,000 or so passengers per day. Now, if only 20% of those were to use alternative transport, movements at Sydney would be reduced by about 65 per day. I believe that the reality would be closer to 40%, or 120 movements per day.

    For those who have not grasped the concept yet, air travel is 20th century technology. This is the 21st century, and a 21st century solution is required.

    The solution is not a second airport inconveniently located at least one to one and a half or even two hours slow travel away from the CBD. The solution is to pick up and drop off passengers at and to the places they want to go. You guessed it, the CBD or its immediate environs.

    KSA is capable of handling the expected increase in international and long distance domestic traffic for many years to come if the number of domestic movements were reduced. Even longer if new international entrants were to use Canberra airport from where they could get to the Sydney CBD in one and a half hours. This time includes baggage claim and customs.

    The 21st technology is, of course, the VFT. OK, I can hear the howls of derision from here, but just a moment.

    The most common argument against the VFT is the cost of the project. Yes, like all major, nation building infrastructure, on the face of it, it is expensive. $98 billion is a lot of moolah. However, the big mistake that the people make about the cost is that they don’t take into account the externalities. Let me list just a few.

    The savings of not having to build a second airport for Sydney, not having to build the attendant infrastructure to go with it, not having to expand Melbourne and Brisbane airports and not having to spend billions more on the Pacific and Hume Highways. Then there are the externalities. The lost economic productivity caused by congestion, the freeing up of existing rail links for use by rail freight transport, reducing the number of trucks on the highways, the lower maintenance cost resulting from that, the reduction in the amount of other traffic on the highways resulting in fewer accidents and deaths, the reduction in health costs as a result of accidents, the expertise to be gained by the Australian companies in building the project and the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. People with much more expertise than I possess could compute this, but I think it is safe to say the figure would be many billions of dollars. Per annum.

    This last one is greater than almost anyone realizes. The VFT uses renewable energy. Yes, that’s right, renewable. Completely. This would be achieved by using wind power.

    A VFT for 500 passengers needs approximately 13000HP or 9 megawatts. The average wind turbine these days is 2 megawatt and mechanical ability about 65%. Current developments will increase this to 80% in the short term. Wind farms consisting of 9 to 10 installations 300 kilometres apart along the route would provide sufficient average power for 20 train sets. These installations would be connected to the national grid to ensure that power was available in times of little or no wind. However, the converse is that in times of high wind and therefore excess capacity the excess would be sold back to the national grid.

    Makes aircraft travel look a bit crook, doesn’t it?

    Julia Gillard said in October 2012 that our population density does not warrant the expenditure on a VFT. Hullo? If we have the population to warrant all the direct and external costs above then we have the population density to warrant the VFT. Taking all the above into account, the VFT is the cheaper option.

  5. Ben Sandilands


    No-one should be derisive of a well argued and detailed summary of the situation from a point of view that many people would agree with.

    And for myself, I don’t need to be persuaded that air travel has become pretty crook, as you put it.

    But I disagree on some key points, which I hope to touch on later, and no doubt others will also agree or disagree with some of your positions, so I’m looking forward to the discussion.

  6. Ben Sandilands


    There are several matters that work against parts of your argument in my opinion.

    One is exemplified by the differential between domestic and international air traffic growth. It is only a period of five or six years, but I’m away from the data base, so forgive any error here, that Sydney-Melbourne traffic alone accounted for about 35% of the Sydney head count. It is now down to around 31% and is expected to drop into the mid to low 20% band if only around half of the predictions made for international demand, primarily from Asia, materialise in the coming two decades.

    There is no savings to be had from not building a 2nd Sydney Airport, since the site is already publicly owned and the airport will not be built at public expense, but private cost to whomever buys the 99 year lease over the site and meets the revocable conditions of their purchase or loses all of part of it if they fail to build and ensure that it is operated.

    You could argue that the investment that private capital puts into a 2nd Sydney airport will compete with the private funds likely to be available for sections of a high speed rail network, but that would be mistaken if we look at what actually happens in Europe, where the public invests in the rail infrastructure and the private investors go for the associated real estate and economic opportunities created by public tracks used in many cases by private or quasi-private rail entities like Eurostar and so forth.

    Your case for Sydney being able to survive on a single airport implies a total contempt if I may so so for western Sydney, which is the productive engine of the Sydney economy, and merits the investments in inter-metropolitan transport that are already taking shape in the likes of the SW Rail project, whether or not it ever fills its capabilities to serve an airport at Badgerys Creek or the adjacent Nepean site.

    I would agree enthusiastically about the need to power not just HS rail, but as much of everything else as possible, from renewables, and I wouldn’t limit it to wind, but if we take into account the electrical storage technology being early funded by Boeing and Airbus today in the likes of SUGAR Volt study, then also solar and even solar augmented natural gas, which does however contain a component of fossil carbon release.

    We have the inventive skills to be a major player in such things, and reap the royalties on such technology, but there is tragic disdain for doing so at every level of government and public administration in this country, going back for lifetimes, and we will I fear continue to punt our best and most inventive minds overseas, to the benefit of more prescient environments when it comes to technological innovations.

    If you try to somehow force air travellers to deplane well before reaching Sydney and catch any form of surface transport you will simply drive away the business and leisure activities to other more convenient centres, which might actually include Canberra, and hollow out the capacity of the state in NSW to invest in anything as economic activity declines. The days of either taxing or spending our way to a brighter future are over, mainly because it never worked in the past.

    We should be cautious about ignoring the potential for Perth or other resource centres to claim a far larger and longer flying component of domestic travel than they do at present.

    And we need to keep in mind the capacity of airlines to always undercut rail in the sense that their investors have not sunk any funds in geologically fixed permanent ways, but in fleets that are increasingly on 5-6 year leases and can be shifted anywhere the the owners of those aircraft decide they can best make a buck. Keep this in mind, the money in flying isn’t made by airlines, it is made by aircraft owners, and in airline economics today, who owns the aircraft, and who flies the aircraft, are rarely the same investors.

    I think some of the elements of your plan involve the re-invention of a strong centralised state economy, a model that has failed even more miserably than the excesses of poorly regulated and rapacious free enterprise looney-libertarian states which the extreme right sometimes seems to want to try and reinvent.

    There are constraints on us imposed by the reasonable rule of law and the reasonable need to encourage private investment in competitive goods and services when it comes to grand scale infrastructure plans which require large scale social reoganisation to deliver.

    It reminds me of the near religious zeal of the proponents of a nuclear powered state, in which everything including civil liberties and choice had to be subordinated in order to make an investment in a technology which might itself be rendered obsolete by disruptive innovations.

    Its the sort of thing that happened to a France that tried to build its early industrial revolution on canals, and did indeed try to suppress rail for a period in some locations which came along rather inconveniently for the canal companies which for a while survived on nothing more than political patronage and interventions. Or the media I used to work in, which would have similarly tried to suppress the internet, if it had been capable of seeing where IT technology was headed.

    My second biggest fear about the NBN is that it will be totally eclipsed by innovation before it is built. My biggest fear is that it will be totally stuffed up even before it is half built, since large scale publicly controlled enterprises seem to do just that. They screw up.

    So, in a round about way, I think what you are proposing involved far too much dictation and direction, and the days of that working in so far as investment funds are concerned are over, if they ever worked for long in the first place.

    Sydney doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It has competitors. It no longer has any claim on the indulgent spending of tax revenues derived from activities in other parts of the Commonwealth. No body owes us anything any more. Without a competitive offering of air services to a very large metropolitan area Sydney is toast.

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