Does Sydney need a second airport?

AUSTRALIA’s prime minster Tony Abbott’s decision to develop Sydney\s second airport in Badgerys Creek met with much enthusiasm from the business community, including national carrier Qantas and rival Virgin Australia – with the exception perhaps of the owner of existing Kingsford-Smith Airport who by its own study and master plan shows that Kingsford-Smith will have the capacity to meet the demand for the next 20 years.

But for Mr Abbot, “this is a decision that has been shirked for too long.” The debate has been going on for 45 years as prime ministers came and went, ever since Badgerys Creek in western Sydney – about 56 km from Sydney’s business district – was identified as a potential site in 1969. Sydney’s current airport, Kingsford-Smith, is situated 7 km south of the city center.

Kingsford-Smith Airport, Courtesy

Kingsford-Smith Airport, Courtesy

By all accounts, Sydney needs a bigger airport, if not a second one. Passenger traffic out of Sydney is expected to grow from 40 million to 87 million over the next 20 years and to 165 million by 2060. However, the difficulty with planning an airport is the lead time; you cannot wait till the clouds in the crystal ball clear to start. Hence some gateway airports such as New York, London, Hong Kong and Singapore seem to be always under constant construction. The cost of delay may be enormous.

Apart from the forecast of traffic growth, Mr Abbott’s administration may be driven by other economic considerations. Construction of the A$2.5 billion (US$2.3 billion) airport, which is expected to commence in 2016, will create 4000 jobs and introduce even more jobs on site when the airport becomes operational and in related industries of up to 35.000 by 2035. Facilities-wise, Badgerys Creek may not be subject to the night-time curfews that restrict flights from operating between 11:00 pm and 06:00 am at Kingsford-Smith. Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss said: “If Sydney is to be a city that is able to compete internationally, then it will have to have airport services that are available 24 hours.”

Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce said: “The role of second airports has been well established in several of the world’s major capitals. Sydney is the key gateway for air traffic in and out of Australia.” However, Mr Joyce should know that with the exception of New York, which is served by three equally well-used airports – JFK International, Newark and La Guardia – no other city is as well served by two or more airports, not even London although secondary airports such as Gatwick and Stansted may help relieve the congestion that it increasingly experiences. A more likely example is Tokyo in Japan, which is served by both Narita and Haneda, but clearly Narita has greatly reduced the importance of Haneda as an international gateway.

City airports are apt to face limitations on their ability to expand, hence many cities have developed farther away second airports (not secondary airports) which then become the primary airports by design. Examples abound, particularly in Asia, such as Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi vs predecessor Don Muang, and Kuala Lumpur’s Sepang (officially Kuala Lumpur International Airport) vs predecessor Subang (Sultan Abdul Aziz Shah Airport). Erstwhile airports then are downgraded to handle low-cost flights and charters, or converted into military bases if not closed. However, the nature of the air travel business is such that for many operators even if they are merely flying third and fourth freedom flights, connectivity is an important aspect. Hence even for some low-cost carriers, the preference is to be where all the other carriers pass through. Singapore`s Changi Airport which opened a Budget Terminal for low-cost operators in 2006 closed the facility in 2012 to make room for a new international terminal; budget carriers are now housed alongside full service airlines.

Yet there are good reasons why some operators may prefer to operate out of secondary airports, to avoid the prohibitive costs at primary airports, particularly if they are thriving on a sizeable market of strictly end-to-end traffic. London Gatwick ofr one is Europe`s leading airports for such flights.

It is not clear how Badgerys Creek will complement Kingsford-Smith. Unless the dual concept works, the next question to ask therefore is whether Badgerys Creek will replace Kingsford-Smith as Sydney`s primary gateway airport. The ambiguity will continue to question whether Sydney really needs a second airport, even though the tribe has spoken.


About David Leo
David Leo has more than 30 years of aviation experience, having served in senior management in one of the world's best airlines and airports. He continues to maintain a keen interest in the business, writes freelance and provides consultancy services in the field.

One Response to Does Sydney need a second airport?

  1. Pingback: Does Sydney need a second airport? | City of Newark Delaware

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