People ‘shouldn’t have to sleep at airport’


THE federal government is being urged to ease the restrictions on Sydney Airport - considered the world's toughest - so up to 10 more planes can take off or land each hour after disruptions to clear backlogs.

We can reveal growing support for extra flexibility, with leading tourism and business figures arguing the entire nation is suffering because the existing rules are too tight.

The number of passengers using the airport has more than doubled since 1997 when the cap was introduced at 80 aircraft movements per rolling hour measured every 15 minutes - a structure the politician who set it now admits was unscientific.

"Regulation should never be set and forget," Sydney Airport CEO Geoff Culbert told The Saturday Daily Telegraph. "I think we are at a point where I think it is worthy of having a conversation about it."

Sydney Airport CEO Geoff Culbert. Picture: MONIQUE HARMER
Sydney Airport CEO Geoff Culbert. Picture: MONIQUE HARMER

Research for the airport shows if bad weather hits at 3pm on a weekday and lasts three hours, 8000 people can't get to their destination until the next day.

By changing to a daily limit and using the airport's full capacity - 90 flights an hour - the backlog would be gone by 10.45pm.

Mr Culbert said the intent was to go beyond 80 movements to catch up after interruptions only.

And the existing curfew from 11pm to 6am was "sacrosanct".

Accor Asia Pacific COO Simon McGrath said Australian tourism was suffering because the airport was the main gateway to the nation.

"No other airport in the world has these restrictions on it," Mr McGrath said. "I think most people agree on the idea of increased flexibility but they are so frightened by the cheap sound bites from a minority."

Top businessman Tony Shepherd said "it's not a good look for Sydney".

"It's about time we started thinking about the customer," he said. "They aren't sheep. They are people trying to go about their lives. It's ridiculous," said Mr Shepherd, who was president of the Business Council of Australia and chaired the WestConnex Delivery Authority.

Regional Express chairman John Sharp, who was federal transport minister when the current cap was set, said there was "no science" to the choice of 80 movements.

Rex Airlines chairman John Sharp. Picture: Jonathan Ng
Rex Airlines chairman John Sharp. Picture: Jonathan Ng

"It was selected because it was politically more attractive than Labor's 85," he said. "We had to have a better offering so we went to 80.

More flexibility would mean people weren't left "sleeping on the floor of the terminal," Mr Sharp said.

No Aircraft Noise Party spokeswoman Winnie Southcott said more flexibility meant more noise.

"What about all these kids who are sleeping under the flight path?" Ms Southcott said.

A Productivity Commission report requested by the government was finished in June and publicly released in October. It recommended the cap be measured "once an hour".

That would do little to clear major backlogs.

The government is yet to respond to the PC report.

But in an encouraging sign for advocates for change, Transport minister Michael McCormack yesterday said the government would "take into account the views of all stakeholders, the needs of all airport users and the importance of aviation to Australia's economy".

Labor's transport spokeswoman Catherine King said the PC report "does not present a compelling case to change the management of the cap."