Sydney Airport congestion problems set to continue

A long way to go: Congestion problems around Sydney Airport will likely continue despite plans to ease problems. Photo: Brendan EspositoSydney Airport boss Kerrie Mather has been true to her word.

For months, she has been telling all and sundry to expect an “evolution rather than a revolution”.

She was, of course, referring to her grand plans to develop the country’s least-loved airport over the next 20 years.

The need to spell out those plans is a legal requirement. Every five years, the airport has to release its development plans for the next two decades.

The latest incarnation of those released on Wednesday include for the first time a plan to try to tackle what is quickly becoming the bane of any traveller’s experience of Kingsford-Smith – a car trip there to catch a flight.

Mather’s plan is a step in the right direction: a new ring road around the two domestic terminals – T2 and T3 – within the next five years, and a new thoroughfare to the international terminal.

The privately owned airport is also pushing for better use of trains and buses. And at long last, it plans a public bus facility at T2 and T3.

A central part of Mather’s plan to free up the roads is to break the divide between what are now the domestic and international terminals.

By making the three passenger terminals suitable for domestic and international flights, Mather reckons it will reduce unnecessary trips to the other side of the airport via Airport Drive to catch a connecting flight.

But the question is whether it will all go far enough to reduce road congestion?

If history is any guide, the answer is probably not.Importantly, the airport also requires buy in from the airlines to get its plans off the ground any time soon.

Firstly, Qantas has to agree to sell back the leases on T3 and its jet base well before they expire in 2019 to free up land for terminal expansions.

Then there’s the question of which terminals the airlines will use.

Virgin Australia has made it well known that it has no intention of shifting its entire operations to what is now the international terminal. It believes such a move would put it at a huge disadvantage to its arch rival.

In all of this, it is important to remember the underlying politics. The plans are aimed at convincing us that Sydney Airport is capable of handling surging demand for air travel for decades to come, and to delay as long as possible the push for another airport which would break the incumbent’s monopoly.

On the former, the verdict was in last year when a joint federal-state study declared that the existing airport would be full by 2027.

Of course, Sydney is not alone.

Congestion at airports is a growing problem around the world, particularly in Europe. At an airline conference in Cape Town this week, executives took aim at their pet target: London’s Heathrow Airport.

Even Dubai Airport – the home of Qantas alliance partner Emirates – is quickly hitting its limits.

But that knowledge will be cold comfort to Sydneysiders hoping for a revolution.

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