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Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Sydney's THIRD Airport?

Whilst our beloved politicians & industry representatives wrestle with the politically fatal issue of Sydney's second airport at either Badgerys Creek or Wilton, Wyong Council, on the NSW Central Coast, is quietly envisioning Sydney's third.

Truth be known, they in fact audaciously hoped it would become Sydney's second major airport. According to news reports, secret emails between council staff & advisers certainly referred to it as such, & they decided to deliberately mask the plan as a "regional airport" to avoid community backlash. Upon the media catching wind of it, council officials played the "regional airport" tune exactly to the script, & blamed the media for beating the whole thing up. As they say, never believe anything until it's officially denied.

Bushells Ridge, proposed site for the Central Coast
Regional Airport
According to council, what they have officially done is identified a 900ha site just a few kms north of an existing small aerodrome (which is sparsely used & likely to be sold off to property developers), which they propose be set aside to build a "regional airport" with a single 2,600m runway within the next 10 years.

So just what exactly can you do with a 2,600m runway? Well, to put it in perspective, Sydneys' "parallel" runway 16L/34R is 2,438m. It daily handles anything up to A330s & B767's. Coolangatta Airports' main runway, on the Queensland Gold Coast, is 2,342m, & also handles international Air Asia X A330's & B777's from Singapore's LCC Scoot.

Quite simply, a 2,600m runway could handle just about anything from anywhere except a B747, A380, or anything  Antonov!

But that shouldn't be a problem. The Federal Transport Minister, whilst publicly backing the proposal as a regional airport to serve the region, has stated that Sydney still needs a second major airport in Sydney. Whether it be Badgerys Creek or Wilton, one of them will definitely still happen sometime this century, just not this side of September's federal elections. The Minister might not even be the Minister by the end of the year.

Critics of the plan point out that it's only a stone's throw from Newcastle Airport, which is also keenly trying to increase its presence. But Newcastle Airport is living on borrowed time. What most people chose to forget is that the airport is actually called RAAF Base Williamtown, & is the primary F/A-18 jet fighter base for the entire east coast of Australia. The Air Force is not keen to give the airlines any more slots & would love to see them gone altogether. A Central Coast airport might just be their solution.

What doesn't appear to be on anyone's radar is Illawarra Regional Airport, near Wollongong on the NSW South Coast. It already has a 1,820m runway which could technically handle A320 / B737 aircraft, although the airport would need considerable upgrading to handle the weight & apron movements for such activity. The airport would be a gateway for the entire, rapidly developing south coast of the state, but unfortunately, there just doesn't seem to be the interest or will in making it happen.

Ultimately, having two airports in Sydney, plus the Central Coast isn't a bad idea. If you consider how the three airports on the south east of Queensland function along side each other - Gold Coast, Brisbane, & Sunshine Coast - you can see how Sydney would benefit from the same "three strand cord" approach. Ideally, having three airports comprising Central Coast, Sydney & South Coast would have been ideal to the point of orgasmic. But enough about my fantasies.

Councils are great at proposing grand things but generally poor in actually making them happen. But given the changing face of airline operations over the next 10 - 20 years, this thing might just become necessary. One can only hope.

Media reports:

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