Brisbane Airport, and the skyline it struggles to serve: BAC photo

The top story on the Courier-Mail today is about a review of Brisbane’s regional and general aviation airports and in some case, airstrips, to see how they can help overcome a crisis of unreliability and crowding at its main Brisbane Airport.

It is an alarming story for anyone familiar with those ‘options’ in that it underlines the desperation of the Brisbane situation given the eight years or so it will take for the construction of a second long runway at the main airport to solve today’s problems, and maybe, but not necessarily, then cater for the growth that the city will miss out on during that period.

The two nearest substantial airports that do to a limited extent already compete with Brisbane Airport are at the Gold Coast, but at the extreme southern end of it, at Coolangatta, and at Maroochydore, on the Sunshine Coast.

Both airports are well run, and quite pleasant to use, but heart attack territory if you were thinking of using them to get to or from the Brisbane CBD for business meeting purposes, given the vagaries of road traffic and the time taken and the more limited services and frequencies on offer from both, and the more so in the case of the less busy Maroochydore airport.

The Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast airports will grow considerably between now and late 2020, which is about when the second long runway at Brisbane Airport would be ready. The Gold Coast in fact might grow so successfully that it suffers from the limited area of the airport, raising yet again the semi-mythic  vision of a new airport beyond the northern end of the Gold Coast at Jacobs Well which would also be within competitive striking distance of Brisbane proper.

Otherwise the closer aerodromes are Archerfield, about 12 kms from the CBD, and a busy general aviation and corporate jet airport in its own right, and Caboolture, which is 55 kilometres away, on a lease that is said to expire in 2018,  and comprising grass or rudimentary strips suitable for light aircraft and microlights.

Archerfield doesn’t offer any options for proper longer runways suitable for modern interstate or even regional Queensland jets. It does however have potential to take more higher paying biz jets and smallish corporate turbo-props.

None of this encouraging. The RAAF base at Amberley has a runway of just over 3000 metres, and regularly takes larger and heavy military jets, and is about 50 kilometres from the CBD.  This is a busy, growing and important military asset, and it would take much planning and money to come up with an appropriate way of opening it up to civilian use, possibly through the building of another large runway. There is no sign that anyone is taking Amberley seriously as a future option for flights to greater Brisbane.

However there is a Lockyer Valley Regional Airport project, at a flood proof location, which recently received local government approval  and could provide emergency services and private pilots with a runway by the end of this year.

What happens next? It is possible that the unthinkable or way out options will get some traction, but Jacobs Well is, as the name suggests, a very wet site, cursed it appears with the same sea level sodden soils as Brisbane airport that will require a great deal of land fill and compaction work to establish a base strong enough to endure for decades as  the foundations for new runways and terminals.

There are no obvious practicable alternatives to making funding peace over this, and doing everything possible to try and shorten the time taken to get the second long Brisbane runway  into service.  The solutions may be at least as hard to deal with as those involved in building a second Sydney Airport.

Updated with reference to Lockyer Valley Regional Airport project.

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