While the Federal Government promises to yet again look into a second airport for Sydney, Canberra Airport is already gearing up to offer international flights from the end of next year.
Flights to New Zealand are expected once the current $350 million redevelopment process is completed in late 2012, with Singapore tipped for early 2013 and China likely to follow, with Qantas considering Canberra for flights to New Zealand and Singapore.
"The airlines have been very clear that they want us to have customs, immigration and quarantine facilities in the completed project" Canberra Airport managing director Stephen Byron told Australian Business Traveller.
Byron says he expects services from Canberra "will be flying across the Tasman to both Auckland and Wellington by the end of 2012, and I think it’ll be in the first quarter of 2013 that we'll see one of the airlines commence services to Singapore." The airport's 2009 'masterplan' also flagged China as a likely 'medium-term' route.
"We can handle an Airbus A380 now" Byron told Australian Business Traveller. "We've already expanded the aprons and made improvements to the runway. It's been lengthened, strengthened and widened to 747 and A380 standard. 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."
The likelyhood of the jumbo and superjumbo shutting in and out of Canberra is of course much less so than smaller-load planes such as the popular Airbus A330 and potentially the beleagured Boeing 787 Dreamliner (which Qantas hopes to introduce on domestic flights from 2012).
Byron believes that Canberra Airport's international role will start as an 'overflow' airport as Sydney becomes more congested, helped by the fact that Canberra has no curfew.
"Sydney will become more crowded and that's when our role as an overflow airport comes into play. We're the only curfew-free airport between Sydney and Melbourne. 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."
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."
Qantas will consider opening international services from Canberra Airport but Allan Williams, Qantas' regional general manager for the ACT, told Australian Business Traveller the choice of destinations would be "about passenger volumes and routes that are viable."
"Whether it be New Zealand or Singapore, that work will be done in the next couple of years to work out where we might be able to run international operations from Canberra."