Mar 20, 2017

Only another nine years of country flight fights for Sydney Airport

Screw the bush and their little planes! Another excellent result of selling essential public assets like airports to private monopolies

Ben Sandilands — Editor of Plane Talking

Ben Sandilands

Editor of Plane Talking

Although obscured, this REX 340 has both props attached

The bickering about rural flight access to Sydney Airport has flared up again, and if long suffering country travellers are lucky, it might end as soon as 2026 when the harbour city gets a new airport at Badgerys Creek in its west.

Then again… One of the problems of access to airports under any sort of enterprising management is the pressure to sweat the asset and fly the largest possible aircraft for every precious slot, and to hell with the consequences.

This report in the Sydney Morning Herald has caught the main combatants at their candid best today, but the debate has flared regularly, using ministers and spokespersons past, even before Sydney Airport was privatised in 2002.

There was for example, a period when regional carriers Kendell and Hazelton were in play following the collapse of Ansett, when they were at risk of being bought by a major airline like Qantas and having their access to the country’s major airport converted into more interstate jet flights.

Kendell and Hazelton were instead consolidated into REX, a mostly highly profitable country wide rural operation which is currently in the news for managing to lose a propellor off one of its SAAB 340 turprops on approach to Sydney Airport last week.

The formation and survival of REX has probably saved countless country lives from becoming part of the road toll by offering economic time saving alternatives to lousy highways in South Australia, Victoria and Queensland as well as NSW, but REX might need to pay more attention, pending an ATSB investigation, to the vital connection between propellers and wings.

The brawl going on over rural flights access to Sydney is one that is also of increasing relevance to Brisbane, Melbourne and Adelaide airports, although in Melbourne, some regional services are trying to make a go out of flying to Essendon, just down the highway where all those DFO shopping billboards are found.

If you live in the country, or need to fly there, the large airports will try to screw you out of your tiny little annoying turboprops so that they can make more money out of bigger aircraft. It’s business. That why the Nationals leader, Barnaby Joyce, is there plugging the interests of big money (and big gas)  instead of the farmers because that’s his shtick.

Minister Constance’s departure from the song sheets when it comes to governments backing businesses over the interests of consumers is fascinating. But will it end well?

Postscript: By the time Badgerys Creek is transformed into Sydney West the upscaling of rural services will become more apparent. By 2026 the likes of Coffs Harbour, Albury, Wagga Wagga, Dubbo and Port Macquarie, and many other country centres, will have seen tentative jet services become the norm, and jets the size of A320s or 737 will likely be taking on possible larger versions of today’s turboprops on shorter routes.

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17 thoughts on “Only another nine years of country flight fights for Sydney Airport

  1. Dan Dair

    I hadn’t actually seen anything about the Rex propeller incident before this mention.!
    I can’t actually recall a loss of a propeller on any commercial aircraft for decades.? (of course that might be because, as in this case, I don’t pay enough attention.???)

    AFAIK neither the S340 generally, nor their GE engines have any history of serious malfunction, which is probably why there are so many of them still flying.?
    I hope the ATSB will be all over this right away as I do find this incident somewhat concerning, to say the least.
    Has the missing prop turned-up yet.?

    1. freddagg

      Having been a very regular passenger on ATR turbo prop aircraft in Taiwan, I often wondered what would happen to an aircraft if a blade or prop let go (and me in particular when sitting directly adjacent one of them). Perhaps it was related to the direction of rotation and the momentum carrying the prop AWAY from the aircraft, but they are a very, very, very lucky bunch of people.

    2. caf

      Has the missing prop turned-up yet.?
      It’s probably embedded in Ben’s tomato patch.

  2. Dan Dair

    IMO turning Essendon into a ‘dedicated’ regional-aircraft airport would make a lot of sense because of its close proximity to Tullamarine.
    I’d advocate a dedicated & uninterrupted busway to link the two airports and utilise their proximity to the utmost.

    I don’t believe that Bankstown is able to offer the same level of ‘meeting-of-needs’ for Kingston Smith airport.

    I have long held the view that it makes sense to build any new major airport as two adjacent airports.
    You build the international airport you actually want; two long parallel runways, multiple terminals, cargo centre & maintenance hangars,
    but you also build a one or two runway, one or two terminal regional airport directly adjacent to the main one. A dedicated busway or underground rail system which connects all the terminals (in both directions) would make the airport/s a most efficient machine for the movement of passengers & would make each side of the airport optimal for its anticipated traffic.?

    Of course, you only build what you need right now, but you plan the expansion right from the start.
    So you build one long runway & one international terminal and one short runway & one domestic terminal, plus a dedicated busway between them, to begin operations.
    Then you add the bits you need in phases as the business expands, but because you planned it out from the start, unless there’s a radical-shift in the way aircraft are designed, there won’t be any issues about expansion when the time comes, because the plan’s been there for years, possibly decades.?

  3. Ben Sandilands

    I was unable to over this incident with the prop when it happened. It was a very disturbing incident and I think very credibly covered by the general media. There will be breaks in transmission from me in the coming months caused by a medical regimen (for which I apologize), but I hope not on ‘hot’ news days.

  4. caf

    Jet services by A320 are already the norm for Coffs, at least.

  5. Suti I

    I am unable to understand why Rex needs to service some of the airports it does.

    Lismore for instance. To my untrained Sydney-centric eye, Lismorites can drive 30mins to get on a 737 at Ballina. If complainers cry outrage, then let these Lismore Rex planes land at Bankstown and get them to drive in from there instead. Save the Sydney slots for planes that really need it, not for [certain] overserviced regional areas.

    1. Dan Dair

      Suti I,
      “To my untrained Sydney-centric eye”
      I agree.!

      (see also my longer response to the later (but similar) Deano DD comment)

  6. bushby jane

    We love using Essendon with our regional service; compared to Tullamarine it is bliss. There is a bus service between the two actually.

    1. Dan Dair

      Bushby Jane,
      I’m pleased for you, however.
      my point about a dedicated busway is that services connecting the two airports wouldn’t have to deal with the main highway traffic.
      In order for Essendon to really serve as the regional-aircraft airport, it’s not about servicing the city & district of Melbourne only, but about allowing regional aircraft (& their passengers) to integrate with long-range domestic & of course international flights as seamlessly as possible.
      Why choose to fly to Essendon if it then takes you two hours to get your bags & cross the few miles to Tullamarine (at peak traffic).?

  7. Deano DD

    I don’t see why every prop regional could not use Bankstown
    It has been in decline for decades as people move away from GA
    Schofields and Hoxton Park have already closed
    All thats needed is
    A U Beaut terminal
    A rail loop off the East Hills Line (which has the capacity even now for express services)
    Perhaps a better link to the M5

    The East Hills loop would not be much more expensive than rail to BC
    The terminal would be cheaper than BC as its only for regionals so no air bridges etc
    Plus Bankstown tends to be busy for GA when regionals are quiet like weekends and mid day till 3.00
    No new airport needed

    Perhaps KSA could take a serious look at a parallel 07/25 runway for those days when wind plays havoc
    Rather than being 1 kilometer apart, it could be just a couple of hundred meters apart and for departures only south of the current 07/25

    1. Dan Dair

      Deano DD,
      As a regional airliner ‘gateway’ to Sydney & the greater Sydney basin, Bankstown is, as you imply, an excellent solution.

      Unfortunately, it does not deal in any way with the problem of passengers flying in from the ‘sticks’ & who will then want to transfer to a long-haul domestic or an international flight through KSA.

      Without a dedicated direct & exclusive rail-link between the two airports and probably a direct & exclusive busway as well, no-one in their right mind is going to want to brave the Sydneyside traffic at almost any time of day, to get from Bankstown to KSA to make their connection.?

      Building another runway at KSA isn’t the worst idea in the world, but it doesn’t mitigate any of the curfew or movement limitation issues.

      IMO, the (my earlier) concept of building BCA together with an adjacent domestic/regional airport would make a lot of sense
      IF Bankstown was then closed & the traffic transferred to BCA-regional.
      The significant amount of land currently occupied by Bankstown could then be turned-over to real-estate, the value of which in such proximity to the city & without any future aircraft-noise issues, would presumably be very, very substantial.?

  8. Letterboxfrog

    Aboveground urban maglev on the M5 corridor between Badgery’s Ck, Bankstown and Kingsford-Smith might be in order; along with Essendon and Melbourne. I’d deliberately take the smaller planes just to take the Maglev! Linimo and Rotem both have good examples.
    Also a lot cheaper than underground rail which politicians in this country love building.

    1. Dan Dair

      Mr Frog,
      Maglev is dead.
      Just because it’s so bloody expensive & AFAIK you can’t run freight on it.
      Personally, I think Maglev is brilliant, but the trouble is it requires all new infrastructure, not an upgrade on what’s there already.
      So whilst it’s cheaper, better & faster than underground, it’s also going to be an eyesore for anyone who lives next to the concrete elevated viaducts supporting the track in urban areas.
      And for the few moments it’s passing, it’s bloody LOUD.
      (not entirely dissimilar to any other high-speed train)

  9. Ian Fraser

    A not so serious comment but it might have been different….

    Central Coast Council seem to be trying to get something going at the airport space that I think former Wyong Mayor Eaton was trying so hard to put together before Badgerys Creek got the go ahead.

    Ben, what if we had also designed for fast trains between there and good connections to the Sydney rail system?

  10. Ben Sandilands

    Ian Fraser,
    In my view, a single runway jet capable airport near Wyong would not only make sense for the Central Coast but as a replacement or overflow airport for Newcastle, where the current air services rank second to the current and future growth of RAAF operations.
    It doesn’t need a fast train service, although when or if such link is built between Newcastle and Sydney, a stop at the Central Coast airport would make sense. As I understand it the current proposal is reasonably connectable to the existing rail service, and spending tens of billions of dollars exclusively to shave 10-15 minutes off travel times from the Newcastle and Sydney CBDs wouldn’t have the desired effect.
    Once people add the true commercial cost of an HS rail fare to a remote airport to the total journey price they could come up with a doubling of the total fares. Or worse. The natural catchment for a Central Coast Airport would be the Gosford Wyong area itself, southern greater Newcastle, and the upper North Shore of Sydney, so it is punters at Hornsby or Epping or Macquarie University who might be far more important to its success than those much closer in trip times to KSA or Sydney West.
    The land considered available for a Central Coast airport isn’t large enough to do a major modern airport, But it is sufficient for something similar to Coffs Harbour, a bit better than Ballina, and comparable to Wagga Wagga, Dubbo and Albury. There has been active planning for some years now in Airbus and Boeing for designs that would be optimised for tightly configured airports at thriving regional centres. I don’t see a Central Coast Airport getting much if any government funding. It could be an entirely private venture, like Wellcamp, integrated into a plan to tap into future growth in economic activity in an area that is currently totally underdone.

  11. Dan Dair

    Whilst I’m on my soapbox about building International & regional/domestic airports adjacent to eachother & calling it one airport.

    If Badgery’s Creek WAS built in such a fashion
    AND Kingston Smith DID ‘freeze-out’ little regional aircraft,
    it would certainly play into the hands of the owners of BCA, whoever they turn-out to be.

    There’s no more certain way of guaranteeing that international flights will service your airport, than having a wide regional infrastructure of domestic routes to service onward-travelling passengers.
    And of course the reverse is equally true. Passengers for overseas flights who are connecting to Sydney from the regions will not want to catch the train or the bus (or God-forbid, get a taxi) between BCA & KSA for their international journey. The clever airlines will be the ones opening-up services by putting smaller A330’s & B787’s (maybe even A321’s.?) onto their initial routes to & from BCA.?

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