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airports

May 2, 2017

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The owners of Sydney Airport have decided not to exercise their first right of refusal to build a second airport at the Commonwealth owned site at Badgerys Creek on the western margins of its metropolitan sprawl.

This means that as already announced, the Federal Government will build the first single runway stage of the jet curfew free airport and seek to sell it to alternative owners before or after Stage One of the project opens in 2026.

The ‘first right of refusal’ to build such an airport was a sweetener in the $5.6 billion sale of the existing Sydney Airport in 2002.

That right potentially gave the owners of Sydney Airport a long term lease base monopoly on the setting of airport user charges on airlines, their passengers, and terminal retailing prices including car parking fees over the entire Sydney basin until early in the 22nd century.

It has drawn persistent criticism from the ACCC,  other consumer bodies, and tourism operators and the airlines themselves ever since.

The decision by Sydney Airport means that once the new airport starts operating price competition between itself and Sydney West airport for airline services and passenger facilities could end price gouging and add to the attractions of a Sydney gateway for surging levels of inbound travel, particularly from China.

Sydney West will be capable of taking full load operations by all existing and planned airliners from Day One, will direct flights over almost totally uninhabited sections of the Blue Mountains by night, and not be impeded by the noise and curfew restrictions affecting the established Sydney Airport, which is close to the harbour city’s major CBD, yet inconvenient in terms of access for an estimated 2.2 million of greater Sydney’s current population of around 4.7 million people.

The building of Stage One of Sydney West airport is generally put at around $5 billion, with about $1 billion for the first stage terminal.

Outside the airport’s boundaries some $7 billion in federal funds have been committed for access roadworks that are already under construction.  There is a controversy over the need to connect to airport from its opening date to the Sydney metropolitan railway system, which could be done at minimal cost by extending the recently built SW rail link to Leppington to the terminal with a view to further extensions including a proposed Western Sydney Rail line from Macarthur well south of the airport to St Marys, well to its north on Sydney’s main east-west rail line.

The SW rail link itself is integrated into the airport line that already serves Sydney Airport.

airports

Apr 15, 2017

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Badgerys Creek airport site may yet escape from monopoly ownership risk

What better timing could there be than an Easter Holiday weekend story or two putting the owners of Sydney Airport in a headlock over the fate of their right to gouge travellers and airlines for another 88 years or so as the monopoly lease holders of existing and future airport facilities in the entire Sydney metropolitan basin?

The Australian obliges today with a ripper of a story (subscription required) in which the Federal Government calls the bluff of Sydney Airport Group over its insistence that it might not take up its first dibs on building and operating the second Sydney Airport at the Badgerys Creek site.

The Sydney Morning Herald takes a different, but no less painful approach in a story about claims that the WestConnex road project might not only cost three times as much as officially claimed, but still doesn’t have a plan to connect drivers to the existing airport.

As Plane Talking has pointed out over the years since Sydney Airport was sold for $5.6 billion in 2002 to a consortium that was then free to totally screw users of the asset for anything short of prices that would collapse demand for airline services to Australia’s largest city, this was the worst privatization of a publicly owned asset in the country’s history.

But the dream that somehow a way might be found to prevent Sydney Airport from exercising its right to extend the screwing to any additional new airport in the metropolitan basin may be about to come true.

Sydney Airport, the company, has baulked at the idea of spending maybe $3 billion to set up the first stage of the Sydney West airport and a May 8 deadline for it to pay up or p*ss off, is bearing down on it. And as The Australian reports, the Feds have locked in place their Plan B for financing Sydney West, pending no doubt, a future sale to different private owners, or maybe even a Sydney Airport that has undergone some attitude readjustment therapy.

Whatever else might happen, it seems that the Turnbull Government (and most likely any government that might follow) is determined that the Sydney basin will have a second jet airliner airport by 2026. In economic terms, this would be like giving a patient who will otherwise die of congestive heart failure a new lease on life.

Will Sydney Airport blink? Let us hope not. The countdown is running out of days. The ruinous decision taken by the Howard/Costello government might just be torn down.

airports

Mar 20, 2017

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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.

airport rail

Feb 28, 2017

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London’s soon to open Elizabeth line has lessons for Sydney

It’s high time to call out the nonsense about a $25 billion high speed rail link to Sydney’s new $5 billion western airport at the Badgerys Creek site.

Rail fantasy fans and the shadowy vested infrastructure and real estate interests that would totally wreck the national economy to whisk non-existent customers from the Sydney CBD to the new airport in ten minutes up to 20 times an hour in super deluxe trains don’t deserve the time of day from NSW Transport Minister Andrew Constance.

But there is more than a hint that he is taking them seriously in this informative report in the Sydney Morning Herald.

That ‘fantasy’ project, worth five times as much as the guidance from Canberra as to the actual cost of stage one of the new and much needed Sydney West airport is much more about an all new east-west metropolitan rail link for the greater Sydney basin.

Which is of course,highly desirable. But recasting it as being an integral part of building the Badgerys Creek airport has become aggressively promoted gibberish. Such a link is far more about the vested interests that see opportunities galore in a larger Parramatta and Olympic Park and Pyrmont-Darling Harbour precincts.

And there is nothing wrong with that, if it isn’t dressed up as a Badgerys Creek airport essential, and becomes an excuse to further delay or screw up that project.

What is Sydney West airport going to be? It’s going to be an airport for the 2.2 million or so people (or maybe over 4 million by 2050) who currently waste huge amounts of time struggling to get to Sydney East airport, a.k.a. Kingsford Smith or Sydney Airport, and totally stuff up road and rail commuting for the legions for whom the existing airport and the traffic it generates is a source of daily commuting frustration.

What Sydney West isn’t going to be is an alternative to the existing airport for the Masters of the Universe who currently pack out its ‘loyalty’ lounges when they should really be so productively engaged in their offices that they nearly miss their flights.

It isn’t physically possible to provide them with a Badgerys Creek rail link that will ever be faster than getting to the current airport which is barely 6000 metres from the ASX or Macquarie Bank or Martin Place.

And if its going to cost a staggering $25 billion (and probably more) the price of a time wasting ticket for a rocket ride on rails is likely to be something approaching a one way business class fare between Sydney and Melbourne, if those dozens of financial analysts can be bothered getting to a station and waiting half and hour for the train.

Nor will it be something that will sell well in Upper Middle Bogan, assuming the leisure travel hordes who jam the current airport, would come all the way from the suburbs often far from the CBD just to get their rocks and a few hundred extra bucks off to board a train that is going to hurtle past their homes (or under them) at several hundred kilometres an hour.

Sydney West will indeed be vital to handling the massive growth in international visitors coming to Sydney. But tourists from China, for example, won’t by flying for up to ten hours to the harbour city just to see another rapid railway for a large part of the cost of flying here when their own country is the high speed rail techno bling centre of the world!

They are coming here to visit Planet Pure, and breath our clean air under blue skies, and enjoy our cuisines, our wines, our scary but lovely wide open spaces and rolling surf coastlines.

Minister Constance needs (as one suspects he already does) to look happily at the brilliant stroke of deviously clever planning that has the rail line that runs under the current airport effortlessly linking up to the South West line stations that end ever so close to Badgerys Creek.

For next to nothing (well maybe for less than one Adani or one billion dollars) most of the 200 or so of the greater Sydney area stations can be linked to affordable rail to the Badgerys Creek terminal with almost no costly tunnelling.

He just needs a pet gorilla or two to keep the wrong people, with the wrong project as far as Sydney West airport is concerned, away from his door.

The illustration at the top of the post is of one of the first stations that will open on London’s new Elizabeth Line at Paddington in a few years time. Once called CrossRail, this project is about far better London area rail services than it is about more trains to Heathrow Airport.

airports

Feb 17, 2017

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The international terminal at Sydney Airport

Opinion There is nothing new in the possibly orchestrated series of stories in the general media about how the owners of the Sydney Airport monopoly need more government money in order to extend its reach to include the second Sydney Airport at Badgerys Creek in western Sydney.

These are ransom notes. They say ‘Give us your money or we we won’t exercise our right to build and operate the new airport needed do things we can’t do in the current overcrowded airport.’

If for example one was to visit The Australian’s aviation landing page today there was by complete coincidence a story saying development of Badgerys Creek would be unviable without government support, and another about how greenfield airport projects come with significant upfront costs. Oh duh! Who would have thought?

The Australian seems at times to be a red blooded, free market journal, while at others just publishes obedient and obsequious exercises in dictation from vested interests.

The whinging from Sydney Airport’s owners appears to heard more clearly at The Australian than the misery its shortcomings inflict on airlines and their customers, and even commuters unlucky enough to have navigate around it by road or under it by train, not all of which are of course the fault of those owners.

Sydney Airport has quite a few issues to legitimately complain about, but asking for public funds to extend its monopoly over airport charges on travellers, airlines, and on site retailers is more than a bit rich.

If Sydney Airport’s owners can’t hack the upfront costs of taking up its rights to grab a second Sydney Airport, which it purchased when it bought the existing eastern airport, it should get out of the way and let others risk their capital for what look like very high rewards in the longer run.

Sydney would then also gain the full benefit of competition between those two widely separated airports, which will in reality serve two cities occupying the same sprawling Sydney metropolitan basin.

There will be an overlap for some customers, while the western airport will also accommodate growth in international tourism that can never fit into the existing airport unless someone invents a way to build them as a stack of runways and terminals. As if.

airports

Jan 18, 2017

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From today’s AFR, some S & P barrow pushing

A hard headed approach should be taken to credit ratings agency Standard and Poor’s or S & P saying Sydney Airport’s owners are ‘unlikely’ to exercise their first right of refusal to build and operate a  second Sydney Airport at the Commonwealth owned Badgers Creek site in western Sydney.

S & P has a less than stellar record of advice and commentary since the Global Financial Crisis of 2008, and the smart question whenever ratings agencies raise their heads and threaten dire consequences for governments, or airport companies, or anything, is ‘what’s in it for them?’

The Sydney Airport group is more than capable of talking lucidly and directly to government, investors and the general community. It is also engaged in a struggle with the Federal Government over Canberra’s expectations that it will invest $5 billion in taking up the option to build and run a 99 year lease over the urgently needed second Sydney Airport.

Late last year the media was told by sources that Sydney Airport was contemplating a $1 billion investment in building the terminal at the new airport, while the public purse spent more than $7 billion on associated works, and the external transport access infrastructure, which is already under construction and will have major additional benefits for western Sydney commuters and businesses.

That figure was shot down very promptly by the Turnbull Government, which made it known it was happy (if not ecstatic) at the thought that Sydney Airport would not participate, and thus lose monopoly control over airliner handling charges and terminal retailing activities across the entire Sydney basin.

Airport retail licensing or leasing, including car parks, are highly attractive and profitable in their own right, and S & P seems disingenuous in suggesting that the second airport will struggle to attract profitable numbers of passengers or general consumers in its early years.

Sydney Airport is sitting on the right to its owning 99 years of a money minting business. Serving the highest growth area of greater metropolitan Sydney. The story just doesn’t add up, and should be seen as an attempt to reduce the cost of Sydney Airport’s participation so that it can enjoy the rewards sooner and for less outlay.

airports

Dec 21, 2016

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A simplified guide to the economic relevance of Badgerys Creek
A simplified guide to the economic relevance of a Badgerys Creek airport

Commentary Back in 2002 when PM John Howard and his treasurer Peter Costello ditched free market principles to sell the publicly owned asset of Sydney Airport into the gentle and caring monopoly control of a Macquarie Bank consortium for $5.6 billion, a seemingly eternal orgy of screwing every last cent out of the airlines, their customers and some on site retailers set in at Australia’s major air travel gateway.

Could it be that it is about to be ended? The Sydney Airport Group which now owns the main, and desperately inadequate and outrageously uncompetitively priced Kingsford Smith Airport is making a lot of noise in the general media about how it might not use its first right of refusal to build and operate the second Sydney basin airport at the Commonwealth owned site at Badgerys Creek in Sydney’s west.

Given the arrogance and indifference of Sydney Airport to criticism of its treatment of airport users ever since who cares? It was made about as clear as it can be by the Turnbull Government yesterday that the new 24 hour international and domestic airport would up and running by 2026 with or without the participation, to the tune of around $5 billion, of Sydney Airport Group.

The government is reported to have withdrawn an offer of an Adani, or a $1 billion loan, to Sydney Airport to help the poor struggling dears build the Sydney West airport and thus ensure that there would never be competition between two airports serving the greater Sydney region, and its 7-8 million people by the middle of this century.

This is a golden opportunity for Sydney to escape from the cavalier mistakes of Howard and Costello back in 2002. There really is no such thing as an enduring public benefit from the sale of natural monopolies to private owners without imposing a set of iron clad conditions on future pricing, and when it came to Sydney Airport, both the Coalition and its Labor successors adhered to a so-called ‘light handed approach’, which basically told the public to suck-it-up.

However it is probably unlikely that Sydney Airport will walk away from building and operating Sydney West.  The shock of the cultural change of having to cede pricing power to a competitor which in time might rival or eclipse it in size might prove too unpalatable to swallow.

airports

Dec 12, 2016

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Stage One noise contours for the Badgerys Creek site
Stage One noise contours for the Badgerys Creek site

There are some little discussed details that need to be kept in mind with today’s staged hoop la about the final approvals of a plan to develop a second Sydney airport at a site at Badgerys Creek.

The owners of the existing Sydney Airport now have about $7.6 billion dollars worth of public spending pledged for building and accessing a 2nd Sydney Airport at Badgerys Creek to incentivise them into spending around $1 billion on a terminal.

These details put an entirely different complexion on what was originally touted as a project based on the risks and rewards being taken up by private enterprise. It has segued into a massive potential benefit to Sydney Airport Holdings, the ASX listed owner of most of the existing Kingsford Smith airport, that also holds first right of refusal to own and develop a second airport in the Sydney basin.

When Sydney Airport was privatised in 2002 that option over building a potential competitor airport was a clincher in the Howard Government extracting $5.6 billion from a consortium led by the Macquarie Bank.

But there was no reference to Sydney Airport only having first right of refusal over the new airport’s terminal building. The political case made 14 years ago was that private investment would contribute in a major way to the whole airport, and the necessary additional surface transport infrastructure.

Sydney Airport makes massive margins on retail agreements for those terminals it owns at the existing airport, as well as the associated car parking facilities. In its early months the Turnbull Government was talking about an investment in infrastructure by the private owners of the new airport of around $3 billion.

The details of today’s agreement, as leaked so far, include a Government spend of $4 billion in a first stage single runway and taxiways, and other essential infrastructure within the site, as well as a separate $3.6 billion package for new roads and in due course, rail access.

The access infrastructure package, launched by the Abbott government, sought to leverage much needed spending on western Sydney roads on the merits of the immediate construction and longer term downstream economic benefits that an airport would bring. Is allowing a private owner to get away with just building a lucrative terminal at Badgerys Creek instead of assuming the risks and rewards of most of the airport, as envisaged in the conditions of the original privatisation of Sydney Airport, something that passes any pub test?

There is little room to doubt that Sydney needs this airport. The existing airport is a disaster for travellers, and in recent weeks has almost come to a standstill because of congestion on the approach roads, in the terminals, and in the carparks.  The two underground rail stations at its International and Domestic sides are so expensive to use that two or more people sharing a taxi or Uber will pay less for door to terminal carriage than they would using public transport.

But these stations also funnel passengers onto suburban train services where the few places available for the disabled, elderly or pram pushing commuters who can’t use the upper and lower levels of each carriage are often taken by airport users toting oversized suitcases.

It is a very ugly very Sydney spectacle. Many of these passengers are starting or finishing their air travels from western Sydney, home to around 2.2 million out of more than 4.5 million residents, who struggle to otherwise drive to the airport close to the main CBD in much less than two hours.

It’s airportageddon, and the earliest a second airport at Badgerys Creek would bring relief is 2025, meaning a further nine years of hell.

airport rail

Sep 16, 2016

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A drawing of the forthcoming Sydney Metro trains
A drawing of the forthcoming Sydney Metro trains

A solution to the technical dilemmas posed by a southerly extension of the NW Metro project may be found by running it through the already planned new inner South Sydney station at Waterloo, and then onto Green Square, taking over the existing Sydney Airport rail link.

It’s an opportunity that leaps off the page in this report in the Sydney Morning Herald, which doesn’t provide any detail as to what linkage might be made with the NW Metro and an Airport Metro.

The concept of metronising the existing airport rail service has emerged as an aside in an options paper prepared by the state and federal governments for rail links to the all new second Sydney jet airport to be built at Badgerys Creek by 2025.

The current intention for the southern extension of the NW Metro, once it is run under Sydney Harbour and then through the CBD, is for it to serve a new station at Waterloo immediately south of Central and continue to new platforms at Sydenham from where it would surface and take over the Bankstown line.

This involves rebuilding the Bankstown line stations to eliminate curved platforms considered incompatible with the curtain wall platform/train divide which is an essential feature of the high capacity driverless single deck trainsets.

But all of the deep level Airport Link stations, which currently carry heavy rail duplex trainsets on the longer distance services through the East Hills stations and on to Campbelltown and Macarthur, have straight platforms and could be readily adapted at much less cost than the Bankstown option.

The proposal is for an airport shuttle metro to terminate in the nearer SW suburb of Revesby, although there is no mention in the SMH report as to where the CBD end of the line would terminate, although the existing surface platforms the Airport Link uses at Central station would be impracticable for such a role, as they are shared with City Circle traffic.

There is however an existing space for ghost underground platforms directly above Central’s Eastern Suburbs deep level platforms which like similar unused platform space at Redfern were provided for in JJ Bradfield’s original early 20th century plan for a Southern Suburbs Line extending as far as Botany Bay.

As the SMH story underlines, removing the Airport Link services from the conventional metropolitan railway network would free up badly needed capacity for more regular suburban trains.

Such a move would address some of the criticism of the NW Metro for being the wrong format for long distance commuting from the Hills district to the Sydney CBD  because of the emphasis on standing passengers, and the discomfort this could cause to a rapidly aging population.

The fact that Sydney’s third harbour rail crossing (the second was lost to the Cahill Expressway lanes on the Harbour Bridge last century) is being built too small to take double decker heavy rail services has also been criticised. The reduced dimensions of the tunnels between Chatswood and Barangaroo under the harbour would deprive them of the versatility to take the largest suburban rail cars in service today through a new harbour rail crossing in a metropolitan area forecast to be approaching eight million people in the middle of this century.

However, the need to shift large numbers of air travellers, and their luggage, and airport related workers, into and out of its terminals, as well as from the already booming new inner city suburbs of Green Square and Waterloo, would fit exceptionally well with the operational characteristics of a high frequency single decker metro service.

Sydney Airport is going to be very busy no matter when the greater metropolitan area’s second large jet airport opens.  Sydney West’s rail needs will also be the needs of more than a million people in new suburbs, campuses and business districts in its immediate vicinity. Choosing among the various options proposed for Sydney West may come down more to the benefits that could be delivered to western metropolitan residents than the somewhat rarified notion that air travellers starting or finishing their trips in eastern Sydney would fight their way through congested roads and rail services to join an expensive high speed rail link from the CBD to the western airport rather than make a short trip to the existing airport.

If the NW Metro takes over the current Airport Rail link it will probably kill the enormously costly high speed rail to Badgerys Creek notion stone dead, making the cheaper options of just linking the Badgerys Creek site to the adjacent SW and W rail lines much more attractive.

There is going to be much to argue about over Sydney’s two airport rail links in coming years.

rail

Mar 11, 2016

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PM Turnball arriving by train for this morning's assault on policy neanderthalism
PM Turnbull arriving by train for this morning’s assault on policy neanderthalism

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s announcing that the Sydney West airport at Badgerys Creek will be rail ready on its opening is a signal that public transport is one of his policy commitments that hasn’t been hand braked by the coalition’s conservative power brokers. Continue reading “PM advances Badgerys Creek Airport rail link to opening day”

airports

Oct 19, 2015

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What was Mr Truss thinking in his no rail for Sydney West comments today?

Perhaps the PM for Rail, Malcolm Turnbull, should have tea and biscuits with his recidivist deputy Warren Truss after the Infrastructure Minister’s vaguely disconnected references today to there not being a need for trains to the new Sydney West airport until some time after 2060. Continue reading “Maybe the PM should talk to his deputy about Sydney West rail?”

airports

Oct 19, 2015

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airports

Jun 12, 2015

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airports

May 2, 2015

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Why did Anthony Albanese disavow years of support for a curfew free 2nd Sydney Airport?

The current row over a curfew for Sydney’s second airport at Badgerys Creek began with a spur of the moment reversal of Labor policy over the issue in the heat of a moment in campaigning for the last month’s NSW state election. Continue reading “Sydney 2nd airport curfew row started with campaign brain fade”

airports

Mar 13, 2015

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airports

Jan 4, 2015

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airports

Dec 5, 2014

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