We’re told by the Government Sydney would grind to a standstill unless a second airport is built by 2030. The existing Sydney Airport will buckle under pressure as a flood of tourists try to squeeze through a bottle-neck. Colour me sceptical.
Beijing Airport served 84 million passengers last year and sits on 1,500 hectares. The UK’s Birmingham Airport covers an area of just 800 hectares but still manages to serve a catchment of some 20 million people. In contrast, Sydney Airport has 900 hectares up its sleeve and serves a population of just 4.8 million.
While the Government is right to assume increasing passenger numbers – they’ve grown relentlessly for decades with September 11 and the collapse of Ansett barely making a dent – the Government is wrong to assume a proportional increase in the number of planes. Airlines are upgrading to larger planes such as the A380, and Sydney Airport currently uses only 320,000 of its 500,000 allowed flights per year. These two factors mean there is more than enough capacity at Sydney Airport for several decades.
However, the Government is pushing ahead with the second airport anyway and is now in consultation with Sydney Airport which has the first right of refusal to build and operate it. If there's money to be made, Sydney Airport is in the best position to make it. When Prime Minister Tony Abbott approved the site at Badgery’s Creek, he also announced $2.9bn in new roads spending to support the new airport. So Transurban shareholders are also going to do well.
Construction of the second airport is scheduled to begin in 2016 and is expected to create 4000 new jobs. By some estimates, that also happens to be the number of workers required to construct one of the Egyptian pyramids. I hope it doesn’t take as long to build.