Sydney's second airport at Badgerys Creek: how to get it right

It's been a debate, the origins of which can be traced to now scratchy recordings from the Whitlam era, that has been mired in the seemingly intractable politics of marginal seats.  But, if Sydney is to have a second airport, rather than another second-class one, it needs to not just consider the bonanza of local jobs that it will generate but also the millions of travellers who will use it.

Sydney's airport record doesn't augur well. It can't presently even provide a proper dedicated airport train link with airline passengers, after often long flights, having to fight for space with ordinary commuters on ordinary commuter trains day and night and with not even allocated space for their luggage. And the airport can barely manage an orderly taxi queue let alone a half-decent taxi system to efficiently service a distant second airport.

But, by the same token, don't write off the existing Sydney Airport. Despite its well-known litany of deficiencies it's a rarity and unquestionably an asset, and will remain so, since most major airports, unlike Kingsford-Smith, are inconveniently distant from their city centres which business and leisure inevitably want and need to access.

Connections are crucial. Seoul's Incheon Airport is often cited as being among the world's best. But the hour-and-a-half-plus road journey into town, in this traveller's experience, is a nightmare, used to  overshadow the excellent terminal experience (the airport has since introduced an express train service). And it can take two excruciating hours to get from Tokyo's main airport by so-called limousine bus (less by the preferable Narita Express train service).

Interestingly, the Japanese, and international travellers, have tired of Narita with Haneda, the airport it displaced in 1978 asTokyo's main's facility, having made a comeback. Haneda, just 14 kilometres from central Tokyo (a similar distance to Sydney Airport from  and city), has upgraded its terminals, built a fourth runway and attracted international carriers back.

Although the Badgerys Creek site is fortunately not as remote from the city centre as Narita or Incheon it could feel just as far without a proper fast train link. It just won't do for Sydney to settle for a second-best second airport link in the manner of the existing one. It needs to be a proper, fast and efficient airport train, similar to one that services Hong Kong Airport, not some hybrid commuter train compromise. Oh, and some luggage racks would do nicely.

Although it's important to get the terminal buildings and associated facilites right at any new airport, it's not just the equivalent at Singapore's Changi Airport that make it a world-beater. It's the ease of access. Because the Singapore Government makes vehicle ownership a costly exercise for its citizens in order to limit traffic and pollution, travel in clean, safe and well-operated, taxis to and from the airport is an near stress-free exercise.

There is another important reason for getting Sydney's second airport right from a traveller's standpoint since by the time it is built inbound tourism is likely to be one of Australia's top export industries, and one that governments will have to finally take seriously with nine million overseas visitors forecast to visit in 2020.

Despite the growing importance of the western suburbs it's almost certain that foreign tourists, many of whom will have begun their journey at airport hubs superior to any that Australia can provide, will want to stay close to the CBD and the harbour than the Parramatta River. But a least Badgerys Creek will be a little closer to time-honoured tourist hot-spots like Echo Point and koala sanctuaries.

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