That old “second airport” chestnut

Linton Besser’s story in the SMH today notes that the Iemma Labor Government’s submission to the Rudd Government’s aviation review calls for a second “Sydney” airport in Newcastle. All public submissions to the review are available on this page, and some of which no doubt make for interesting reading.

The major problems facing the Rudd Government in this area are now three-fold; guiding Australia’s largest city towards an aviation solution that adequately meets the nation’s transport needs, ensuring that any new airport constructed is as environmentally sustainable as is feasible, and overcoming the intense “nimbyism” that is bound to ferment as a result of any proposals for a new airport in the Sydney area. Despite the obvious environmental concerns associated with building a new airport, I don’t think there is any doubting that Sydney can not expect to be able to sustainably service all its international traffic over the coming decades with Kingsford-Smith Airport alone. Building a new airport perhaps just outside the Sydney basin but a reasonably short train journey away from the city is probably the correct answer, and in this respect the NSW Government may be on the right track.

My travels in London have informed me somewhat in the potential benefits of this approach: in London there are no less than five international airports within a one hour train trip of the central business district. High speed private rail links or public rail links, together with high frequency private coach services operate in combination on a 24-hour schedule between each airport and key corners of the city. While I don’t believe that Sydney needs to service anywhere near as much air traffic as London, I have little doubt that the flourishing of London’s secondary international airports have produced many good outcomes. Airports like Stansted Airport have created new jobs, stimulated the local economy, reduced the numbers of people who need to drive to and from the airport, increased competition in the airline industry and reduced the cost of airfares.

If the Rudd Government selects an appropriate location for Sydney’s second international airport, is careful to engage the local community through extensive consultation, and manages the construction and ongoing operations of the airport in an environmentally sustainable manner, this historically controversial and difficult nation-building project could, at long last, prove to be a success.

Of course it needs to happen and be a success, and not just to help service Sydney’s growing aviation requirements; for the sake of the sanity of people living within 10-15 kilometres of Mascot, something needs to happen over the course of the next decade.