Sydney trapped in holding pattern over second airport
While federal and NSW politicians shilly-shally over the inevitable Badgerys Creek airport - there's yet another study released this week with more to come - south-east Queensland will soon have its fourth.
Few things better illustrate the gormless nature of our politicians past and present, never mind the cost of Sydney's policy paralysis.
Queensland's newest airport is somewhat cheekily named "Brisbane West". That might fool the occasional Victorian, but it's actually on the western side of Toowoomba and might as readily be called Dalby South-East. (Toowoomba is about two hours' drive from Brisbane.
NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell's preferred second Sydney airport option is 50 per cent further away - Canberra.)
The Toowoomba airport is an entirely private enterprise. It is being built by the Wagner brothers, of a local family made rich by moving earth and construction. The runway will handle 747s, have no curfew and is scheduled to be finished in five months.
Meanwhile the Sunshine Coast airport at Maroochydore, an hour and a bit north of Brisbane, is getting a longer and wider runway capable of servicing international flights with an eye to the Asian market. The Gold Coast airport an hour and a half south of Brisbane already does that.
Brisbane itself is building a second runway, getting in ahead of any capacity restraints. And there is no curfew.
So four international airports, two without curfew, and five runways in an area about the same as greater Sydney but with a substantially smaller population.
Talk to the people who run or will run these airports and they have no particular problem with the competition they provide for each other. Instead, they tend to stress what they do for their local markets - the growth, employment and opportunities that flow from efficient transport infrastructure.
By comparison, the contempt for the population repeatedly shown by the Macquarie/Sydney Airport gang is astounding. The combination of NSW government ineptitude and Sydney Airport greed means the Wagners can build an entire airport faster than Sydney can sort out the disaster of its immediate approach roads.
The people of western Sydney now understand the benefits of having their own airport better than their Premier or several prime ministers. (Did anything better sum up the pathetic nature of the two candidates in the last election than watching Rudd and Abbott prevaricate over and sidestep the Badgerys question?)
The local councils that once opposed the idea of tarmac in their backyard have grown up and want it.
The people close to the ground are already seeing some impact from the decision the federal government is crawling towards and that the state government is denying - a bloke who lives in a suburb adjoining Badgerys tells me the value of his house has gone up by $100,000 since the talk resumed.
With the airport comes jobs for a region with the city's highest unemployment rate. And the employment growth extends much further.
The real driver of international tourism growth is not the chance for a few Chinese high rollers to give James Packer money - it is the hordes the low-cost carriers bring in. These gravitate to areas with airport competition - that, in turn, means reasonable charges.
Marvellous how Packer can get a casino licence almost overnight on a tourism story while a vital piece of infrastructure of massive benefit to the whole community remains somewhere out in the distance.
The government that fast-tracked Packer's desire for a casino continues to claim there will be no second airport in the Sydney Basin.
Sydney Airport revels in its monopoly, gouging passengers and airlines alike while paying no tax. It will continue to reap excessive economic rent for decades. Chairman Max "shit happens" Moore-Wilton is right to scoff at those who think that, even if Badgerys is given the nod today, concrete will be poured soon.
There are many years of environmental, transport, economic and community reports ahead, plus more than a little engineering planning to be done.
In the meantime, south-east Queensland will continue to attract more jobs with its greater commitment to infrastructure planning. NSW's interstate net migration loss will continue as economic refugees as well as retirees travel north.
A mystery in airport circles is how John Wagner got the air force to surrender some of its exclusive airspace around Oakey. Aviation types reckon that just does not happen - overcoming the possessiveness of the Defence monolith is the work of superheroes.
Wonder if Wagner could be made interested in building a second Sydney Airport?