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.