SYDNEY - Sydney will finally be getting a second airport, which could deliver a significant boost to Australia's economy when it is ready in a decade.
Ending decades of debate and indecision, Prime Minister Tony Abbott and his Cabinet yesterday approved the new airport for Badgerys Creek, a site about 50km west of the city centre.
The project is intended to ease the load on Kingsford Smith Airport, which faces growing capacity pressures but is surrounded by residential suburbs and has nowhere to expand to.
Work on the new A$2.5 billion (S$2.9 billion) airport will begin in two years and will require additional roads and train lines to be built. The airport should be ready by the mid-2020s.
"It is a long overdue decision which, to be honest, has been shirked and squibbed by successive governments for far too long," Mr Abbott said yesterday.
"All the studies show that without a second airport, Sydney will be grievously underserviced."
The existing airport, which is just 8km from the city centre, accounts for about 40 per cent of Australia's international arrivals and half its global air freight, prompting concerns it will reach capacity in the coming years. The airport handled 37 million domestic and international travellers in 2012 - up 3.6 per cent from 2011 - but passenger numbers are expected to double by 2033. It has an 11pm to 6am curfew to reduce noise for nearby residents. The new airport will be in a less populated area and could have a shorter curfew or even potentially operate 24 hours a day.
"We are just dealing with far, far fewer people," said Mr Abbott. "If you look at the noise footprint, some 4,000 people live within a Badgerys' noise footprint. The equivalent footprint at Sydney (airport) is 130,000."
The decision was welcomed by airlines and businesses, which have long urged the government to proceed with a new airport.
Initial construction is expected to generate about 4,000 jobs, with 35,000 created by 2035. The cost of the airport will mainly be borne by the private sector, but federal, state and local governments will spend about A$10 billion over the next decade to improve roads and infrastructure. By 2060, Mr Abbott said, the new airport could boost the national economy by A$24 billion.
Qantas CEO Alan Joyce said Badgerys Creek was the best option and the role of second airports was "well-established in several of the world's major capitals". "Sydney is the key gateway for air traffic in and out of Australia and the benefits of having two major airports will be felt nationwide," he said in a statement.
Virgin Australia also welcomed the move, saying the government needed to ensure good access via public transport.
Badgerys Creek was flagged as the possible site of a second airport in 1969 and the federal government bought 1,700ha of land there in the late 1980s. But successive federal governments avoided signing off on the project amid local community opposition and concerns that it could prove politically costly.
Western Sydney is home to numerous tightly-fought electorates, with several MPs in the area immediately expressing concern about the impact of a new airport on noise and congestion.
But Mr Abbott, who said after his election last year that he wants to be known as the "infrastructure prime minister", sold the proposal as a potential economic victory for western Sydney, a fast expanding area of two million people.
Former state politician David Borger, who heads the Western Sydney Airport Alliance, said the new airport could improve access to Asia. "Our future is in Asia - we need access to those markets and we need to get people and goods to those centres," he told ABC News.
"Having an international airport at Badgerys Creek would be the best thing you could do to connect our region to those markets."
This article was published on April 16 in The Straits Times.
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