SYDNEY Airport has blamed delays in planes arriving and departing on government constraints rather than its own ability to meet rising demand from airlines and passengers.
Upping the ante in the war of words with the federal Transport Minister, Anthony Albanese, Sydney Airport management sought to ''set the record straight'' over the need for a second airport, telling shareholders at its annual meeting yesterday that 39 per cent of landing slots were unused.
But a shareholder accused it of having ''misrepresented the facts'' because the unused slots were off-peak times when people did not want to travel.
''It is simply not accurate for people to be told that Sydney Airport has the capacity to provide the service to the flying public that you are suggesting,'' the shareholder said. ''There needs to be some openness in this … we are being delayed at Sydney Airport. The airport is crowded.''
The airport's chairman, Max Moore-Wilton, said government constraints - such as the cap of 80 aircraft movements an hour - were among the main reasons for delays.
''That is a completely artificial constraint imposed by government,'' he said of the cap. ''We are not misrepresenting the facts. Even with the peak periods we still have slots available.''
As debate rages over the need for a second airport, Mr Albanese has increased the pressure on Sydney Airport by forcing it to hand over an updated version of its master plan in 2013, a year earlier than planned.
This puts the onus on the airport to make substantial progress on long-term plans to remove the split between the domestic and international terminals, and demonstrate how it will cope with increased demand.
Mr Moore-Wilton criticised the minister for rejecting nine of 10 recommendations in a federal-state study on aviation capacity. The only recommendation Mr Albanese pursued was one advocating work on considering a second airport site.
But Mr Albanese said nothing would ''change the simple fact that Sydney needs a second airport sooner rather than later''.
Sydney Airport has first right of refusal on a second airport within 100 kilometres of the CBD.
The airport believes it can meet increased demand for capacity until 2049 under its planned makeover that will shift Virgin's entire operations to the international terminal and Qantas's to the domestic.