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ACT lukewarm on Canberra becoming "Sydney's second airport"

By David Flynn     Filed under: Sydney Airport, high speed rail, second Sydney airport, Canberra Airport

Should Canberra become the de facto second airport for Sydney, linked to the harbour city via high-speed rail?

NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell says yes, rejecting calls for a second airport in the Sydney basin in favour of an upgraded and international-ready Canberra Airport becoming a 'secondary airport', with the proposed Aussie bullet train carrying passengers between the two cities.

ACT Chief Minister Katy Gallagher says "not so fast", citing issues such as aircraft noise and pollution as concerns over the airport's expansion plans.

And for his part, Canberra Airport chief Steven Byron sees Canberra as an ideal "overflow airport" as Sydney's congestion continues.

"Sydney will become more crowded and that's when our role as an overflow airport comes into play" Byron told Australian Business Traveller in an interview last year.

"We won't formally be a second Sydney airport but we believe there will be parts of the market that will grow for us in response as Sydney's capabilities are challenged."

"There are already people travelling to Canberra Airport from as far north as Wollongong because the travel time is certain, there are no traffic delays to get to the airport, the car parking is significantly cheaper and the reliability of air services is greater because there are no delays."

The Canberra Times reports Gallagher as saying ''I would certainly support Canberra Airport playing a larger role than they play at the moment but I'm not sure if we need to be tagged as Sydney's second airport city... if we were going to be Sydney's second airport there would be impacts on the local community which we would have to understand before having a view on that.''

Canberra Airport is looking increasing attractive, thanks in part to a $420m 'AirVolution' modernisation program which will see the airport upgraded to handle international flights, with customs, immigration and quarantine facilities. 

The runways have "been lengthened, strengthened and widened to 747 and A380 standard" Byron told Australian Business Traveller.

"So we've got a fully kitted-up airport, you can go anywhere off our runway with a fully-laden aircraft that you can go out of Sydney Airport."

Canberra Airport opened a new Southern Concourse Terminal used by Qantas in late 2010, and work is now underway on a Western Concourse Terminal which will be home to Virgin Australia and regional carriers.


Canberra Airport's Byron told Australian Business Traveller that flights between Canberra and New Zealand would likely be the airport's first international route, followed by Singapore and possibly China.

Byron also sees Canberra eventually becoming the natural home of low-cost Asian carriers such as Air Asia X and Jetstar Asia. "I think a decade down the track (Canberra) will be Sydney's low-cost airport for international services" he predicts.

"They'll be squeezed out of  Sydney in due course as the capacity constraint hits, just as the low-cost airlines have been squeezed out of Heathrow and other major 'first airports' in larger cities around the world. We think we'll see the Air Asia X's and Jetstar Asias that will be flying out of Canberra."

What's your take? Is Canberra, with international capacity and a fast train link, a viable solution to Sydney's need for a second airport?


About David Flynn

David Flynn is the editor of Australian Business Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.


Have something to say? Post a comment now!

1 on 17/2/12 by willb2107

Isn't newcastle poised better to be a relief airport? Even NTL is a stretch. CBR? 1 hour on a train is a damn long time just to transfer to the city.

2 on 17/2/12 by Libertyscott

Canberra has been claiming there will be international flights for years and always cites New Zealand as the likely first route, yet neither Qantas/Jetstar nor Air NZ or Virgin have shown the slightest interest.  Airports are prone, as natural monopolies for most of their users, to over estimate and over invest in infrastructure in a kind of cargo cult mentality.  For example, how many 747s land at Apia since it had its airport expanded to cope?

1 on 17/2/12 by Al

Canberra has been claiming there will be international flights for years and always cites New Zealand as the likely first route, yet neither Qantas/Jetstar nor Air NZ or Virgin have shown the slightest interest.

How can Qantas/Jetstar and Air NZ do anything about international flights from Canberra when the airport is not able to support international flights? As the article says the airport is only now getting the necessary infrastructure like customs, quarantine, immigration etc and also the runways have only recently been upgraded. I doubt this airport which is privately owned would have sunk all that money into the upgrade if they did not already have some deals done 'behind the scenes' to start international flights or at least a very very solid reason for believing there would be these flights in future.

I also think its smart for them to spend a bit more right now during the upgrade and make their airport future proof. What if there's a situation at Sydney or Melbourne and an A380 or 747 needs to be diverted to Canberra? And any runways that can support those can support the 787 which is going to be the future 'workhorse' for QF and JQ. Better to spend a bit more now than a lot more doing it all again later.

3 on 17/2/12 by jDL

Until a year and a half ago, Canberra's airport was completely pathetic.  Certainly for the nation's capitol.  Sydney Airport needs to reinvest in itself and look at Changi or KLIA in Kuala Lumpur to learn what an international airport should look like

4 on 17/2/12 by Jack

NTL would be a better option IMHO.

1 on 18/2/12 by AirportAddict

Yeah i agree. Go for Newcastle. I think Canberra has its advantages. For example, it is closer to Melbourne and therefore may be a cheaper option for the Melbourne Sydney route. But i think Newcastle being closer to sydney would serve as a good second airport. I think they should have a high speed between canberra and sydney regardless of whether they use it as a second airport.

1 on 18/2/12 by Al

Me too, Newcastle makes more sense than Canberra as a 'second' Sydney Airport and the high-speed rail should be happening anyway, from Brisbane through to Melbourne which means you'd have Newcastle-Sydney for getting to and from the airport as well as Sydney-Canberra anyway.

1 on 20/2/12 by here2go

Noting that NTL's primary purpose is to function as an RAAF fighter-jet base, where do we propose to put them if expanding NTL civilian traffic?

Canberra's looking pretty good!

5 on 20/2/12 by AirportAddict

QF and VA will lose a bit of money doing if this happens. I think that must be why VA downscaled to an ATR on this route instead of an Embraer - because they may have seen it coming on the horizon.

6 on 21/2/12 by wiku

It is amazing to see just how short-sighted and provincial people in this part of Australia are. The infrastructure is decades behind where it should be. Take for example, Pretoria is connected to JNB airport by Gautrain. Ottawa is an international airport with direct flights to London, Frankfurt, lots of North American cities. The ACT desperately needs an international airport if it wants to generate other forms of economic activity beyond skimming stamp duty off public servants. Where is the ACT going to get its funding from if property prices start to fall? Australia is in a very advantageous time zone vis-a-vis Asia. Canberra could carve out a niche in attracting certain types of business operations supporting the Asian market, but it needs connectivity.

7 on 21/2/12 by wiku

Given that the AUD is significantly overvalued, if and when the commodity supercycle ends and the AUD falls in value, a city like Canberra could be in a good position to attract various types of business activity serving the Asian market. It needs to have the right infrastructure in place or it will lose out to alternative locations as far away as Europe and the US/Canadian West Coast. It sometimes amazes me how places like London can be far more integrated into East Asia than Australia is. Australia needs to wake up and sort itself out, or end up like a South American banana republic, exporting raw materials and agricultural produce in exchange for value-added goods and services.


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