Chris Niccol grows about 18 hectares of red wine grapes at his farm in Badgerys Creek, about 30 miles (48 kilometers) west of Sydney. The vineyard may disappear under tarmac if plans to build an airport at the site go ahead.
“This is a peaceful, rural area,” said Niccol, whose Vicary’s Winery says it’s the region’s oldest continuously operating winery. A new airport “will increase the problems of traffic and pollution.”
Qantas Airways Ltd. (QAN) wants a new Sydney airport at the site to ease congestion at the existing Kingsford Smith facility, where carriers are contending with flight restrictions and a noise curfew. Australia’s government, which started buying land for an airfield in the region in 1986, hasn’t yet decided on the project amid opposition from voters like Niccol in one of the country’s most politically volatile regions.
The Kingsford Smith Airport will run out of peak-hour slots in seven years and cost the economy A$60 billion ($56 billion) in lost spending by 2060, according to a government report.
The shortage of air gates at the facility, the busiest airport in the southern hemisphere after Jakarta, is worse than at London Heathrow, New York or Los Angeles, according to Nathan Safe, president of Qantas’s long-haul pilots union. To cut disturbance from aircraft noise to residents in the area, the airport allows only 80 landings per hour and has banned most flying between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m.
“No one wants a new airport to be built but everyone wants to use one,” Neil Hansford, chairman of consultants Strategic Aviation Solutions, said. “Any political party who supports a second airport will jeopardize their local political future.”
Badgerys Creek is a prime contender for the second airport, the Sydney Morning Herald reported citing Warren Truss, the country’s new deputy prime minister, in a Sept. 9 interview. That doesn’t mean an airport at the site is “a done deal,” Brett Heffernan, a spokesman for Truss, said by e-mail.
Politicians are reluctant to commit to plans because the working-class, outer suburban and rural area around Badgerys Creek is more politically sensitive than the Labor-supporting inner city boroughs affected by Kingsford Smith’s noise, said David Burchell, a lecturer in politics at the University of Western Sydney.
Addressing Sydney’s aviation needs has been a “toxic issue” since Paul Keating’s Labor government was thrown out of office in 1996 after opening a third runway at Kingsford Smith, he said. “Western Sydney residents are opposed to an airport for the same reason that eastern Sydney residents are: it’ll make noise and drive down property values.”
About 270,000 people now experience at least 10 aircraft movements from Kingsford Smith louder than 70 decibels each day, loud enough to drown out conversation, according to the government’s Department of Infrastructure.
Restrictions at the facility mean planes often wait on the runway “burning a ton of fuel an hour” for access to terminal gates, said Safe, president of the Australian and International Pilots Association, which represents Qantas’s long-haul crew.
“I’ve been on the tarmac ready to take off in beautiful weather at 9 o’clock on a weekday morning, and have them say ‘You can’t take off because of the movement cap’,” he said. “That’s pretty unique and it’s quite restrictive in terms of world airports.”
Sydney Airport, operator of Kingsford Smith, says there’s no pressing need for a second site. The existing airport, established in 1920 on a cow pasture close to Botany Bay leased for 300 pounds a year, can double passenger numbers to 74 million by 2033 without changing existing rules, according to a draft of its master plan to be delivered later this year.
There’s “ample capacity” at Kingsford Smith, especially if movement caps are altered to take account of quieter modern aircraft designs, Laura Stevens, a spokeswoman for the company, said by e-mail. Sydney has the eighth-best performance among major international airports with 84 percent of flights departing on time in August, according to FlightStats Inc.
Airlines say more is needed. Sydney will require a new airport within 15 or 20 years, Emma King, a spokeswoman for the country’s second-largest carrier Virgin Australia Holdings Ltd. (VAH), said. International passenger traffic through Sydney is forecast to more than double by 2031, according to government.
Kingsford Smith’s slot allocations for the 7 a.m. peak hour are already full on Thursdays and Fridays, according to a government report last year, and airlines will be unable to schedule new services at the times they want as demand grows.
Niccol, 58, who produces about 120,000 bottles a year from his own chambourcin grape harvest alongside chardonnay and verdelho varieties bought from local growers, doesn’t want the new airport.
“There seems to be no consultation of the community’s feelings on the matter,” he said. “It may create some jobs but the population will increase as well.”
Other sources of opposition to the second airport may be moderating. A poll of 3,800 voters in the region for the Daily Telegraph newspaper found 65 percent support a new airport. Badgerys Creek would stimulate western Sydney’s economy and generate 28,000 jobs in the region, David Borger, the regional director of the Sydney Business Chamber, said Aug. 13.
Australia should learn from China’s rapid infrastructure development, Alan Joyce, Qantas chief executive, said last month. The city of Kunming last year opened a new airport, after three years of construction work, that will be bigger than Kingsford Smith within a decade, he said.
“Any time I go to China, I’m blown away by what happens up there.” he said. “It’s been 20, 30, 40 years that we have been discussing this. Now it’s time to take action.”
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