New airport set for take-off

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THE Rudd Government is expected to pave the way for the Richmond air force base to be opened up to commercial airline traffic when it releases its long-awaited aviation white paper next month.

As part of the revamp of aviation policy, the blueprint will renew the search for a permanent site for a second Sydney airport after 63 years of political wrangling.

The Richmond RAAF base is expected to be announced as a temporary solution while the Government intensifies its search for a permanent location.

The white paper is expected to highlight the long-term need for a second airport north of the Sydney basin but closer than Newcastle. The Williamtown RAAF base has been touted as a possible site.

The development of Richmond would take pressure off Sydney Airport, which had more than 3 million passengers last month for the first time despite a downturn in travel.

''The most obvious is Richmond, but that is not a long-term option,'' a well-placed source said.

The Board of Airline Representatives, on behalf of international airlines flying to and from Australia, said it would welcome Richmond as the site for a second Sydney airport.

''We don't believe that an airport outside the Sydney basin would be viable. It would just become a white elephant,'' the board's executive director, Warren Bennett, said.

The only way to make a second airport viable commercially would be to place it near a large population and have it serve both international and domestic passengers, he said. The cost of providing transport links to Richmond would also be cheaper than sites such as Williamtown, which would need a high-speed rail link to Sydney.

Richmond is capable of handling most long-haul aircraft and would suit low-cost airlines such as Jetstar and the Singapore Airlines-backed Tiger Airways.

But any use of Richmond by commercial aircraft, even on an interim basis, would face staunch opposition in the area. Hawkesbury Council said in a response to the aviation green paper that it would have ''an unacceptable impact on the community''.

It is understood support is building within Labor for an airport inland from the Central Coast. The party's policy is for a second airport to be sited outside the Sydney basin.

The federal Transport Minister, Anthony Albanese, has not previously ruled Richmond in or out as a site for a second airport but has struck Bankstown Airport and Badgerys Creek off the list.

A spokesman for the minister said the white paper would most likely be released next month. He would not comment on the use of Richmond as a stop-gap measure but said the blueprint would address the needs for additional airport capacity and the future of Badgerys Creek.

The State Government backed a second airport in the Sydney basin in its response to the aviation green paper, a U-turn on its previous preference for the Williamtown RAAF base at Newcastle. The change of heart was due to the cost of a high-speed rail link.

Correction:  Earlier versions of this article incorrectly referred to Blacktown Airport.