Western Sydney makes its case for an airport of its own

Posted: February 15, 2013 in Transport, Urban planning

A second airport in Sydney’s West should be built at Badgerys Creek, according to a panel of experts who addressed a forum at Parramatta earlier today. The forum, organised by the Western Sydney Community Forum and Western Sydney Business Chamber, included academics, social workers, and consultants as speakers who unanimous backed the proposed airport, arguing it would bring significant economic benefits with only minor noise pollution. The panel also rejected Wilton as an alternative, with a co-author of the recent Joint Study on Aviation Capacity saying that the study did not conclude that the options were “Badgerys or Wilton – the options were Badgerys, Badgerys, Badgerys, Badgerys, Badgerys, or Wilton”.

Current and proposed Sydney airports. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Google Maps)

Current and proposed Sydney airports. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Google Maps)

This is despite the there still technically being bipartisan opposition to an airport at the Badgerys Creek site. This opposition can be traced back to the construction of the third runway at Mascot’s Kingsford-Smith Airport (KSA) in 1994. Chris Brown, a member of the steering committee of the Joint Study on Aviation Capacity, described the campaign against a third runway as a grassroots movement that was responding to huge noise impacts on a large population. Meanwhile, the opposition to Badgerys Creek was led by those at the top, according to Mr Brown. It was argued at the time that Western Sydney should not be the dumping ground for Inner Sydney’s aircraft noise. In addition, the extra capacity provided by this third runway at KSA made politicians complacent on the issue of an airport at Badgerys Creek, according to the former Federal Airports Corporation and Australian Rail and Track Corporation head, Barry Murphy.

The opposition to Badgerys Creek has begun to wane recently, particularly when the issue of the economic benefits that an airport could bring to Western Sydney was raised. Mr Murphy points to cities like Dallas-Fort Worth and Atlanta, which leveraged a large airport to huge economic benefit. Director of Planning with Cox Richardson, Bob Meyer, argues that Western Sydney’s jobs shortfall of 163,000 jobs is putting a huge strain on the transport network, and that this will only get worse by mid century when that jobs shortfall is projected to rise to 406,000 jobs. He believes Western Sydney has abundant supplies of industrial zoned land that could be used for employment, but that it needs a catalyst such as a new airport in order for this to happen. This would then stem the jobs shortfall afflicting Western Sydney.

The panel also dismissed the impact of aircraft noise on Western Sydney. An A380 makes only half the noise of a 747 jumbo jet on take off, according to Mr Murphy, while the smaller A320 makes 75% less noise than a 747. Mr Meyer showed attendees a map of the hypothetical flight paths from Badgerys Creek, which showed that most of the noise would occur over industrial lands rather than residential. This, along with lower urban densities, means that slightly over 300 homes would be affected by high levels of aircraft noise from Badgerys Creek, compared to almost 30,000 from KSA.

  1. moonetau says:

    Heroic Assumptions

    The people at that forum and those who argue for another airport in the Sydney basin are making some heroic assumptions.

    I don’t believe we will need another airport even in the long term.

    If there should be medium term growth at KSA which larger aircraft and improved navigation (ie. More slots per hour) unable to solve, then we should build a HSR to Canberra (as part of the east coast HSR project) and make it an overflow airport for freight and low cost carriers.

    The decision to build a second airport should only be made when the need for one is absolutely certain. The current state of the world economy and impending high prices and/or shortages of jet fuel are likely to restrict the demand for air travel for some time to come especially in the discretionary market.
    The demand for air travel in the next 50 years needs to be examined very carefully especially given that the sharp increase in oil prices in 2007-08 and the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) were not predicted even as recently as 2006. It remains to be seen whether or not demand will return to previous levels despite the growth of low cost airlines in recent years.
    It is well known that the price of jet fuel is now the largest component of airline costs. It is highly likely that the price of jet fuel will continue to increase which will have a softening effect on the demand for air travel.
    My assumption (some may call that ‘heroic’ too) is based on the belief that air travel will become increasingly expensive due to a rapid increase in the price of jet fuel (with a lagging ability to create alternative fuels in the amount required), and a reduction in the demand for overseas air travel by Australians as the value of the Australian dollar comes back to historically “natural” levels when the commodity boom finishes. There is a report in today’s Sydney Morning Herald which says that it is 60% overvalued.

    Fuel Security: The end of cheap oil
    The world is almost completely dependent on oil for all forms of transport. Demand for oil has increased rapidly in the past few years, especially with the burgeoning middle classes in China and India who can now afford to buy and run private cars. It is widely acknowledged that new sources of oil are becoming increasingly difficult to find and more expensive to exploit and that there will be a permanent downturn in oil production in the near future.
    Uncertainty, especially on the supply side, is a defining feature of the oil market. Energy could be secured when countries were self sufficient in oil, but now, as The U.S. National Petroleum Council observed: “There can be no U.S. energy security without global energy security” and most countries now are dependent on imported oil.
    Sydney has increased its population rapidly in the past fifty years leading to urban sprawl. This low density living requires extensive car use, which in turn relies on cheap oil. The escalation of fossil fuel consumption and the oil depletion rate makes it inevitable that in the near future diesel and petrol (as well as jet fuel) are going to become very expensive.
    The increasing marginal cost of oil production
    The accident in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 only underlined the fact that oil is becoming harder and harder to find. Before it blew up, the Deepwater Horizon (in September 2009) drilled the deepest oil well in history, at a depth of over 10km. That is deeper than Mount Everest is high and clearly illustrates the lengths that the oil companies must go to find and secure oil. That cost is being passed on to the consumer in the form of higher prices.
    While higher prices for oil may be manageable if the supply could be guaranteed or even predicted, it is the volatility of supply which may lead to economic distress.
    The transport industry is investigating alternative fuels (eg. Qantas) but there is no guarantee that they will be viable and that they will be able to be produced in bulk and at a sustainable cost, and in time to meet any unexpected interruptions to the supply of oil (geopolitical events). The federal government conducted research in 2009 which predicted a sharp “drop-off” in the supply of oil from 2017 (Transport energy futures: long-term oil supply trends and projections Report 117. Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government).
    It is interesting to note that this document is no longer available on the government’s website.
    Why was it taken down?
    Even innovative bio-fuel companies like Aurora Algae and Algae.Tec, which base their technology on carbon-capture and which do not compete with traditional food crops for fuel production, have found progress slow-going despite significant investment. The CSIRO too is working on alternative fuels, but still with no forseeable production to meet future demand.
    Risk Management and the Price of Fossil Fuels
    The world is becoming more and more dependent on oil as globalisation of production and manufacturing increases. The percentage of oil used for transportation rose from 45.2% in 1973 to 61.7% in 2009.
    The extent of existing supplies of oil and natural gas are very difficult to quantify. The supply of fossil fuels, viewed optimistically, could be viable for the next 10 or 20 years. In that time a viable means to produce alternative fuels in the amount that they will be needed may be developed to make up for shortfalls in oil or gas.
    However this “business as usual” approach contains significant risk, the risk that we will run out of cheap oil in the next few years. The risk that we will not find a way to produce the alternative fuels on the scale that we will need in the time that might be available.
    If you scour the Australian Government websites like BITRE it is very difficult to find references to any extensive research on peak oil / gas, except by those making submissios. The government doesn’t seem to have a position on it.

    Take of example the Bureau of Infrastructure,Transport and Regional Economics’ “Aircraft movements through capital city airports to 2029–30” Report 117, 2009. It makes no reference to the price of fuel. It too makes the “business as usual” approach except for this
    “Taking account of the expected slowing of growth in Australia and international economies as of passenger movements through eight capital city airports is forecast to increase overall by 4.2 per cent a year over the forecast period to 235 million in 2029–30 (Table ES1).” P. xiv
    Likewies the Joint Study on Aviation Capacity for the Sydney Region makes little reference to the price of fuel in the future.
    The quality of research into the price sensitivity of jet fuel and its effect on demand also needs to be investigated. In the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics’ (BITRE) “Working paper 72” (May 2008, page xxvi) an increase in the price of fuel by 50% was predicted to lead to a decrease in passenger numbers by 0.6%.
    However, in the BITRE’s Briefing – 1 (“How do fuel use and emissions respond to price changes?” August 2008, page 3), it was predicted that “for domestic aviation fuel use, a 10 per cent increase in aviation turbine fuel prices … (would) result in a 2 per cent decline in passenger travel” and that for international travel a fuel price increase of 10 per cent would result in a 6 per cent decline in passenger numbers.
    These figures are significantly discrepant and is essential that further modelling by BITRE is carried to ascertain the effect of the changing price of jet fuel on passenger demand and thus the impact on flights in and out of Sydney Airport.
    While technological innovations have reduced the amount of fuel used per passenger kilometre, the airline industry is still a volatile one and very price sensitive. The report by FAA Aerospace Forecast Fiscal Years 2007–2020 “Risks to the Forecast” predicted that “oil prices will remain in the $55-$65/barrel range over the next several years” (p.49) but in the two years following that report (published in 2006) oil prices rose to three times that level.
    Despite the optimistic position taken by IATA in its “ECONOMIC BRIEFING OCTOBER 2008 MEDIUM-TERM OUTLOOK FOR OIL AND JET FUEL PRICES” in which it states that oil supply will last past 2052 at current rates of consumption and if no more oil is discovered. However the US Government Accountability Office’s most optimistic scenario has oil running out by 2040.

    I’ve posted on Alan Davies’ site about this issue

  2. Simon says:

    Interesting comments. While I agree with you in general, I think you are overly negative. Aviation will be the last industry to be weened off oil due to the high value of the high energy density.

  3. Dudley Horscroft says:

    Negative, yes, but perhaps not overly. From what I can make out, there have been no major oil discoveries in Australia since Bass Strait. Gas, yes, and as long as it is being exported from WA everyone is happy. Our local alternative, Coal Seam Gas, is now virulently attacked by “the usual suspects”.

    Mascot is crowded, but not unduly congested. One problem is the number of smaller aircraft that use it. Each takes up about the same amount of flight path as a heavy jumbo. The point is, Sydney already has a second airport – at Bankstown, which could comfortably take all the regional and general aviation aircraft, thus leaving a substantial number of flight paths for the long distance domestic and internationals. What Bankstown does not have is good public transport, but there is a rail line, only about 5 km (I think) away. A single track rail tunnel could provide good rail timings from the Airport to Central Sydney (express, stopping only at Sydenham) and, with interchange at Sydenham, good times to Mascot for international and long distance connexions.

    The VFT line to Canberra could be justified on its own, depending on the amount of relaxation from a 350 km/h throughout line the promoters are wiling to accept. Slowing around an area where 350 km/h cannot be economically justified adds time, but reduces cost. An hourly service at an average of 300 km/h means that trains would meet every 150 km, hence the route could be, for instance 140 km single track, then 20 km double for trains to pass, then 140 km single track, etc. Cheaper than double track all the way.

    All in all, Badgery’s Creek should not go ahead at the present time, or even in the near future. By all means hold the area as a possible future – far distance future – site for an airport, but don’t build it now. And remember that if the noise of aircraft is decreasing, it will be feasible to relax the current curfew, allowing later and earlier arrivals and departures.

    Perhaps most important re noise at Mascot would be to use a steeper ‘glide path’. Remember the case of an aircraft which ran out of fuel and had to divert to the Canaries? Info is that for 1 mile descent the plane flew 12 miles. This is approximately 6 degrees. A 3 degree flight path needs power to sustain it. The 6 degree angle needs no power. A 12 degree ‘glide angle’ could be feasible with undercarriage and flaps down. The means that aircraft would be four times as high at any given place on the flight path, which by the inverse square law means one sixteenth of the noise level on the ground. On such a basis, there is no need for a ban on late or early arrivals. Departures, still requiring full power, would have to remain as is.

  4. Kingsford-Smith is fast approaching its maximum capacity. The Joint Study last year found that roads around the airport will be at capacity by 2015, and passenger rail by 2013[1]. Capacity in each of these can be expanded, but not by enough to indefinitely defer the need for a second airport. It doesn’t matter how much you increase the size of planes, raise the flight cap, or relax the curfew, if you can’t move those passengers once they get off their plane then you are merely moving the bottleneck rather than eliminating it.

    And Bankstown is not a viable alternative, as the Joint Study found. The work has been done on this, and if a second airport is to be built, then it should be built at Badgerys. This is no longer a point of dispute. And it’s become clear that such a second airport will be needed in the very near future so planning and construction need to start now. Not 50 years from now, not 20 years from now, it needs to happen now.

    This is all overlooking the huge economic benefits to Western Sydney from having a freight terminal at a Western Sydney airport for its industrial base, or from residents of Western Sydney (which will soon overtake the rest of Sydney in population) being able to go to a nearby airport rather than having to travel across town to Mascot.

    [1] Source: http://www.infrastructure.gov.au/aviation/sydney_av_cap/files/sydney_aviation_capacity_exec_summary.pdf (page 7)

  5. moonetau says:

    Just a brief reply Bambul until I have more time: …

    I don’t doubt the economic benefit to Sydney’s west but in terms of passengers, origin – destination research shows most is to / from CBD with the majority to the south-east, east and north of KSA, not west or southwest.

    Your source in the last post does not countenance high, medium or low growth in terms of passenger numbers. It almost completely ignores the single most significant input cost for air travel. For that reason alone one ought to treat its recommendations with considerable scepticism.

    At present projections (given the cost of the SWRL), a rail connection to a new airport at BC is likely to cost in the order of 3 to 5 billion. That’s a suburban one, not a higher speed, grade separated one. Plus add the cost of an extended M5!

  6. 1. Western Sydney will soon overtake Eastern Sydney in population and even now accounts for a large proportion of airport trips. I don’t see how this can be ignored because it doesn’t account for the majority.

    2. Forget high/medium/low growth projections, the airport is at capacity NOW. It will need zero growth to cope, and given that Sydney will grow by 33% in coming decades, that will mean a drop on a per capita basis. A brave assumption if I ever saw one.

    3. Greenfields infrastructure at Badgerys is cheaper than at Mascot. Extending the M5 West is cheaper than duplicating it in the East, the same goes for rail.

  7. Simon says:

    Sydney Airport has room for growth, particularly in the numbers of passengers served. Heathrow serves around double the number of passengers from two runways, Atlanta has around triple the number of flights from 5 runways vs 2 usable at SYD.

    There is an artificial cap on the number of flights at present. This could be raised. Further, there could be further consolidation onto bigger planes.

    Any second airport would be consigned a secondary status, like Avalon in Victoria.

    Is it really worth the massive investment for a secondary airport, particularly one which can’t serve a 747 freighter which is what most of the world’s air freight is carried on?

  8. The Joint Study (page 11-14) suggests that Kingsford-Smith’s spare capacity will not last long. All available peak hour slots will be allocated by 2015, with non-peak hour slots allocated by 2027. On surface transport, peak hour trains will reach capacity in 2013, while roads will suffer from constant traffic congestion by 2015.

    Increasing the cap from 80 to 85 movements per hour would provide an increase in capacity of only 6%. Improvements in other areas, such as replacing smaller planes with larger ones (which would be limited by noise concerns) and surface transport improvements, would delay the need for a second airport only to 2030, according to the Joint Study (page 18), which means planning on a second airport needs to start now.

    On the issue of Avalon, it has apparently replaced Western Sydney and Southeast NSW as the fastest growing area in Australia, largely due to the construction of Avalon Airport. It’s also worth remembering that the airport itself will be privately funded, so it’s at no direct cost to the taxpayer. There would be associated infrastructure costs around the area, but it would also lessen the need for infrastructure around Mascot, so again – no additional cost to the taxpayer.

  9. moonetau says:

    “The Joint Study (page 11-14) suggests that Kingsford-Smith’s spare capacity will not last long. All available peak hour slots will be allocated by 2015, with non-peak hour slots allocated by 2027. On surface transport, peak hour trains will reach capacity in 2013”

    According to my Tripview app trains leave Central, bound for the Airport at these times:
    6.02 6.08 6.16 6.23 6.32 6.38 6.47 6.53 6.56
    At 3 minute headways 11more paths could be created

    7.08 7.17 7.23 7.26 7.38 7.47 7.53 7.59
    12 more paths available.

    Given the origin of most passengers to the airport (CBD, North, East and South East) there is still much more that the timetable can provide.

    The reverse direction (Airport to Sydney) looks to be similar.

    What does the Joint Study mean “will reach capacity” by this year.
    What am I missing?
    But the study is right about the roads around Mascot.

  10. The East Hills/Airport Line was at 127% seating capacity in September of last year[1]. Cityrail measures maximum capacity as 135%, above which delays begin to occur. I assume the Joint Study believes it will reach 135% this year, a reasonable assumption. Though the airport line runs under maximum capacity at 8 trains per hour, the City Circle which it feeds into currently runs 15 trains per hour (3 from Bankstown and 4 from Campbelltown via Sydenham).

    The Sydenham trains can be re-routed via the airport, but they are already full, so that won’t increase capacity. The Bankstown trains can be redirected via Town Hall (as half currently are), which allows an additional 8 trains per hour (rather than 5 without), and the government is expected to do this later this year.

    But this additional capacity is needed for the South West Rail Link, which comes online in 2016 and services the 300,000 extra people moving into the Southwest Growth Sector. Even if you assume zero growth in air passengers, the same cannot be said for South West Sydney.

    [1] http://www.cityrail.info/about/our_performance/service_capacity.jsp

  11. moonetau says:

    Thanks for the clarification. So the new timetable may well squeeze out some more capacity.

  12. Dudley Horscroft says:

    I understand that the Paris RER runs double deck trains at 30 trains per hour. The City Circle should be able to take at least 20, even 25. This would give room for an additional 10 trains per hour on the East Hills Mascot line.

    Apart from that there is another rail line that could be used – the Parramatta-Eveleigh-Sydenham-Botany Bay line, which passes close to the airport. A short spur into the airport would enable good timings from Western Sydney without the delay of going through Central and out again. True there are goods services on this line, but it is already double track almost to the airport, and the main blockage at present is the need to re-electrify the line. Also pehaps to bring it up to standard for passenger services.

    Freight services can be dealt with by allotting proper paths for them, which they would have to adhere to, the rest of the time being available for passenger services to the airport as demand grows. This would provide ample transport for passengers.

  13. Simon says:

    That’s true but an Erskenville-Sydenham sextup would allow Campbelltown trains to run into Sydney Terminal. Current proposal for a new harbour crossing blocks this, but I think that is neither here nor there. At least different new harbour crossing would allow the Campbelltown via Sydenham trains to use the Town Hall leg of the City Circle.

  14. […] Western Sydney makes its case for an airport of its own […]

  15. […] Not only is this unlikely to happen, given the high costs involved, but it means passing up on the opportunity to bring jobs to Western Sydney and revitalise its economy, which currently has a huge jobs shortfall that is only predicted to […]

  16. […] Badgerys Creek airport was put back on the agenda by a coalition of interest groups, to the point where now a decision to build an airport there has all but been […]

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