THE O'Farrell government has ruled out a second airport for Sydney, and announced it would instead seek to increase capacity at Canberra Airport and build a high-speed rail link to the state's capital to meet the expected demand from international and domestic routes.
The decision has angered the Gillard Government, which argues a second Sydney airport is critical to the continued development and prosperity of regional NSW.
Federal Transport Minister Anthony Albanese has penned this open letter to the Coffs Coast Advocate in which he argues that regional airports and air services could be the first casualty if a second airport is not built in Sydney...
NEARLY 310,000 people flew between Coffs Harbour and Sydney last year. Among these were local residents flying to Sydney for business, to visit friends and family, see medical specialists or en route to other towns, cities and countries.
They would also have included Sydneysiders doing business or just wanting to spend time around the beautiful beaches, national parks and historic communities of the Mid North Coast.
All of these visits are good news for the local economy. They bring jobs, investment and they support tourism, retail and other industries in both Coffs Harbour and Sydney.
Unfortunately, if some people have their way, aviation access to and from Sydney will become increasingly difficult for the people of regional NSW.
In a nutshell, Sydney Airport is full. All the tinkering in the world won't change that.
Last month, I released a 3200-page, independent report, commissioned by both the Federal and NSW governments, which made it clear that Sydney's aviation infrastructure cannot cope with future demand.
Sydney will need a second airport sooner rather than later.
I know this is an uncomfortable fact but it cannot be ignored, particularly by people living in regional NSW.
Here is why right now, on weekdays, there are no landing or take-off slots left for new regional flights within NSW in 8 of the F hours the airport operates, namely between 6.30 am and 11am and between 4pm and 8pm. None.
Half of each weekday, during the times people want to travel, is almost impossible for new or extra services to the State's regional destinations.
The report makes it clear that the situation will worsen. This is a real handbrake on growth for regional communities.
Regional air services in NSW have grown by nearly 25%over the past five years. Sydney alone has seen a million more passengers from regional destinations over the past five years.
Sydney Airport is the linchpin not just for the State aviation network but for the nation. Access to Sydney is critical in supporting economic growth in regional communities like Coffs Harbour.
Make no mistake, there are people, including those with a vested interest, who would be happy to stop smaller regional planes from flying into and out of Sydney airport.
Consider this: a regional flight, on average, carries 30 passengers, compared with 140 passengers for every domestic city flight. It is an easy calculation for those looking to maximise profits to simply get rid of smaller regional aircraft.
As Transport Minister I have ensured there is a "ring fence" protecting regional air services.
The Government has protected slots for regional flights so that they can't be taken over by larger domestic and international services; we will continue to do so.
however we need to do more, particularly to ensure regional aviation can continue to grow.
Without action on a second airport, regional airlines will continue to feel the squeeze at the nation's busiest airport.
Building a second airport for Sydney is too important a national issue to drag into short-term, partisan politics. It needs a mature bipartisan approach.
This is not only about Sydney maintaining its status as Australia's global city but also about making sure people on the Mid North Coast, and all regional Australians, continue to benefit from aviation access to Sydney.
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