Hours before tonight’s Federal Budget applies billions of dollars of so-called ‘good debt’ on the construction of Sydney’s second jet airport the businessman who built a new airport near Toowoomba in Queensland says he can’t understand either the price tag nor the delay until 2026.
As the ABC reports in an interview John Wagner, the driving force behind the Wellcamp Airport, he says it could be open after three years hard but determined work, and for a fraction of the money.
It is of course, perfectly true that the second Sydney Airport for the Commonwealth owned site at Badgerys Creek is a much more complex and instantly higher capacity airport than Wellcamp.
The Queensland airport has taken charter flights including by a Qantas A330, hosts a Cathay Pacific 747-8F fresh food cargo flight to the vital China market, and is regularly serviced by Dash 8 and smaller turbo-props as well as an Embraer E-70, and associated with an enterprising business park.
But even in recent weeks the official guidance on building Badgerys Creek as defined by terminal, runways and other infrastructure within the 1700 hectare site has crept upwards by stealth from $5 billion to $6 billion.
Mr Wagner might have asked “What is going on?” but clearly chose to be more circumspect.
The big news (and hoped for by many of his supporters) is that his family is interested in taking on the project as part of a construction syndicate.
The federal government tends to conflate the total cost of Badgerys Creek by including the roadworks now underway outside the actual second airport site, which are worth, depending on time of day and who is talking, somewhere as little as an extra $4.8 billion or as much as $7 billion. Or maybe more.
But as the Turnbull government also points out, that spending is essential infrastructure for western Sydney in general, something the NSW government, and state and federal oppositions, are also keen to endorse, but particularly in the form of two new rail projects, one to build a Macarthur to St Marys north-south line that would run through the airport, and separately extend the SW Rail link to Leppington to the airport, which is so easy to do it almost looks like that was always intended to happen.
John Wagner proved that something as major as a large jet aircraft runway and associated works could be done for around $200 million and in a very short period of time.
Provided however that such work fits perfectly into a much larger vision for the expansion of the initial constructions, the issue at Badgerys Creek would become one of keeping up with the demand it generates.
This makes for an interesting contrast to the approach of the government to the project. It sees the airport throwing open its doors after another nine years of purgatory for Sydney with the current over stretched airport to reveal a curfew free runway able to handle anything serving domestic and international routes.
The lights come on, the retail plazas open, the jets rock up, and who knows, the trains glide into and out of the station, even if full of local commuters going to work in the growth half of the Sydney basin.
The Wagnerian alternative, to use operatic license, is to get something, anything, regularly flying out of it three years from now, and benefit from the surging demand that will build all of that extra handling capacity and retail activity ASAP. And, drumroll…, probably without calling on taxpayer dollars.
Let’s hope that John Wagner and his associates get an invitation to participate in the future development of Badgerys Creek. Waiting until 2026 for relief from the current airport does seem like a terribly long and unnecessary time.