The USS Quad Damage

A Second Airport at Badgery's Creek

I talk about why I think a second Sydney Airport at Badgery's Creek is a good idea.

For as long as I can remember, an Airport at Badgery’s Creek has been on the cards. I’ve lived in the area for most of my childhood, and I can’t really see anything wrong with the idea of a second airport at Badgery’s Creek. I was a little surprised to find that people are against it. I figured I’d take some time to talk about why it is a good idea, and also to talk about why arguments for why it isn’t a good idea don’t convince me (yet).

Firstly, I want to preface this by saying I’m basing this on the idea of an Airport at Badgery’s creek, not the actual implementation by the Liberal government (or a future Labor one if this doesn’t get up). There are many things which I regard as mind-bogglingly stupid, such as the lack of a curfew on the planes. The second is that I’m actually assuming there’s a need for this airport. Sydney has grown, and many people are talking about how a new Airport is needed to cope with demand, and companies are struggling with fitting and filling flights. The other thing I’m really assuming is that we’re mostly talking about domestic and human traffic. I don’t believe that it is international traffic that is driving demand for a second Airport. I might be wrong here, but it feels like we’re talking about a domestic load.

To declare any conflicts of interest, I live near the current Sydney airport.

There are number of ways to solve this problem. The simplest / cheapest way would be to remove the curfew at the present Sydney Airport. This would buy some extra capacity, however not to other airports which have a curfew, and also in a way that’s fairly inconvenient to the travelling public, not to mention the many residents living under flight paths. Another possibility is extending the current Airport. A little could be done without buying new land, but it would be expensive and would be unlikely to add much capacity. Even more expensive, but actually solving the problem, would be to expand the Airport by buying the surrounding houses. I think there’s a movie about how that may not be the best idea.

One idea that was actually suggested was a bullet train. A bullet train has been making the rounds as a thing we should do, but it’s one from Canberra to Sydney. The problem with bullet trains is that they require a lot of infrastructure. If you have bullet trains, their stations (cities apart) should be fairly close together, and should have some infrastructure between stations. Sydney to Canberra would be the long end of the scale for a bullet train, but definitely workable. It would likely also be very useful, as apparently a large amount of airport traffic is between Sydney and Canberra. Another stop could also be added between Canberra and Melbourne, but even that sounds a little implausible. Sydney to Brisbane sounds like a pipe dream, as does any connectivity with Adelaide. Perth is obviously completely insane.

Bullet trains are a good way of relieving traffic from Airports, and can work between some cities. I think a fast train link to Canberra is part of a holistic solution. However, Australia’s simply too big, and our cities are simply too far apart. A new Airport appears to be the only solution that can sustain the traffic demand that Sydney-siders want. However, some people are arguing that increased air travel is inherently a bad idea.

One comment was regarding the usage of arable land for an airport. I guess the sentiment is that the land would be better off feeding people than transporting them around. It doesn’t feel like a good argument. Setting aside the fact that the land currently doesn’t appear to be used as farmland, finger in the air, I’d guess the land required for the Airport would feed people in their hundreds, not even thousands. I think there’s either an instinctual idea that the land used for an Airport would either feed many thousands, or that the travel is frivolous (which I’ll address later). I think that a large and growing city like Sydney would benefit from another Airport more than it would be hurt from the lack of the space.

Incidentally, part of both of these arguments (I’ll call them the bullet trains argument and farmland argument) comes from a disagreement of scale, just how big Australia really is, how big Sydney is, and how big an Airport is. I often struggle with scale as well, as humans tend to think logarithmically. Making it worse, maps nowadays allow zooming and so forth, which makes it easy to be confused at how big some things are compared to others. It’s worth trying to do a short back-of-the-envelope calculation just to confirm whether your thinking is correct. I’m unsure whether the real numbers bear my argument out.

Another comment was (if I understand correctly) that we’re running out of fuel for airplanes, and even if we weren’t, airplanes are (currently) not “green”. If Airplanes contribute a significant amount to greenhouse gases, then this is indeed a concern. However, my guess is that it simply isn’t. It’s far better to focus on other ways to mitigate greenhouse emissions than focus on Airplanes. I have a couple of reasons why I think that’s a good idea. The first is that Airlines are very price sensitive, and fuel is expensive. If anyone will min-max their way to more environmentally friendly flights, Airlines will do it. Secondly, I feel like if a system is in tension, then the tension itself will cause more waste than relieving that tension. If there is a high demand for flights that isn’t being fulfilled, people will find more inefficient ways to travel, and this might have a more severe environmental impact.

Finally I want to address this idea that maybe we simply shouldn’t be travelling this much. I absolutely agree that as a society we need to find some solution to the amount we travel. However, there’s two ideas I want to talk about. The first is that we may be making things worse by trying to make things better. Undeniably, there is a legitimate demand to travel between cities. If this demand causes shortages, then it has a colouring effect on society. Perhaps only the rich can fly or travel, which enables them to corner particular jobs, in the same way that they could have better access to IT careers, simply because they can afford to work in unpaid internships. Air travel might become associated with wealth, and this can cause several cultural problems. There’s basically a whole slew of issues we can create by not addressing the demand in society, and none of them need be travel related.

The second is that we should probably feel a little uncomfortable pushing travel down at the supply end of the chain. It would be much nicer to hit the demand side, because it generally yields better solutions. We need to address why people are travelling so much, and come up with better solutions for them. I don’t think people particularly enjoy being fly in / fly out travellers. There’s probably a lot that can be done at the supply side, and this might actually reduce the demand for flights, and to some extent, the need for a second airport. However, I think we’re at the pointy end of the stick in 2014. Addressing these problems was something we should have done several years ago, before another Airport was really necessary. For whatever reasons, we’re now in a situation where we will be doing more damage in not building another Airport, even if we start to address demand-side issues. I think another Airport is (given my above assumptions) prudent.

So there’s my argument. As you can see, there’s plenty of hand waving and assumption going on there. I’d love for someone to poke some holes in there. I’m absolutely willing to change my point of view on this. Unlike the NBN, this isn’t something I have a lot of prior knowledge in. But basically it all boils down to: We need one, it’s in the right place, it suits our Geography, and the reasons against it that I’ve heard so far are specious at best.