One of the consequences for Australia from a second airport, or emergency runway, for Perth could be much more economically feasible non-stop flights from a continental major city airport to London.
To understand this it is first necessary to consider the timely release by the WA government of a State Aviation Strategy document which canvasses, among other things, a second Perth metro area airport, and a major new runway for the existing and much criticised Perth Airport.
The report takes to heart the planning disasters associated with the never ending pursuits and objections related to plans for a second Sydney Airport, which appears to be lurching toward reality at the Badgerys Creek site chosen for it in 1986.
To that extent, WA’s strategy paper is not about building a second Perth airport immediately, but planning for the future, while a new major runway for the current airport is something the airlines would probably enthusiastically endorse today provided they don’t have to pay for it in advance.
As various reports indicate today, the strategy paper recognises the immense upside for airlines in the future of Perth and Western Australia.
The draft strategy said “extraordinary levels” of the resources sector fly-in, fly-out activity was largely to blame, and suggested a second, parallel runway could be the answer, at a cost of up to $600 million.
The strategy document also flags the need for a second general aviation airport, to ease the pressure on Jandakot, which remains one of the busiest airports in Australia, and also a new emergency alternative airport no more than an hour from Perth.
Learmonth Airport in the north of the state, and Adelaide, are currently used as emergency alternative airports, usually in the case of fog or bad weather affecting Perth.
“The criteria for an emergency airport include a suitable runway and airside infrastructure, separation from weather systems affecting Perth, and being within an hour’s flying distance from Perth.”
The point about non-stop Europe flights arises because of that lack of a nearby alternative big jet airport for Perth.
With heavy duty runway alternatives currently as far away as Learmonth or Adelaide, the flight planning constraints on a London-Perth service as almost as severe as they are for the same trip between London and Sydney or Melbourne.
These same constraints also cause problems for current domestic and international flights on a semi-regular basis, sometimes to an extent which has lead to emergency use of CAT III landing procedures and ATSB inquiries.
While the general purpose of the strategy report is not to pursue the ‘holy grail’ of non-stop flights between Australia and Europe, it could usefully encourage a serious discussion about the relative merits of an emergency heavy jet runway near Perth, or a low visibility automated landing system considered sufficiently robust and reliable not to require a completely separate runway at a different site.
If such an emergency runway, or a full second Perth airport to cope with growth and metropolitan sprawl was located where it could remain open when coastal weather conditions impact the existing airport such flights could be planned with less constraints than apply today to the trans polar Newark-Singapore services. The 575 tonne version of the A380 now coming into service could prove viable on the route, and that airframe has ample inbuilt potential for a higher gross weight version with improved engines and is often referred to in planning documents as an A380-900.
Similarly a tweak of the larger capacity 777-300ER already in the works at Boeing in advance of the end of the decade arrival 777-X family could give it full payloads on a route usually estimated to take around 17 hours, or almost two hours less than Newark-Singapore on a bad day. Today’s Boeing 777-200LRs and A345s could readily operate the London-Perth route either way today if there wasn’t the need to carry fuel for a lengthy diversion to a Perth alternate.
The case has on occasions been made that Kalgoorlie could be upgraded to heavy jet alternative status, however that case would likely lose a contest in which the alternative use for the money was on a second and much closer airport for Perth.
Wherever the debate over the WA aviation strategy document goes, the state has recognised that the future is bright, and it will be even brighter if the right moves on aviation infrastructure are carefully considered and set in progress well in advance of needs.