Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee
Estimates hearings, 23 May 2012
Department of Infrastructure and Transport
- Mr Mike Mrdak, Secretary
Senator RHIANNON: In the early 1990s, an airport crash risk assessment was undertaken for the environmental impact statement on Sydney airport’s third runway. Since then the population at risk, if there is a crash, has been increasing due to urban consolidation. Could you share with the committee the last time an assessment of the current and future crash risk as a result of the airport’s siting was undertaken?
Mr Mrdak: I am not aware of any such detailed analysis since that time. I will take that on notice.
Senator RHIANNON: Nobody else is aware. So it appears that there may not have been an assessment since the early 1990s?
Mr Mrdak: Not in the same context as that environmental impact assessment I am aware of. But the aviation agencies obviously maintain a constant oversight of regulatory and operational risks arising from the traffic growth. Obviously, safety measures are taken as necessary by Airservices Australia and CASA to ensure safe operations at the airport.
Senator RHIANNON: I was after the assessments—the assessment within the context of the EIS or a risk assessment in any other capacity. Could you take that on notice?
Mr Mrdak: Certainly.
Senator RHIANNON: I refer to the joint study on aviation capacity in the Sydney region in the context of this debate about the second airport. I notice that it used the terminology ‘supplementary airport’. If such a supplementary airport were built, what aircraft would be relocated from Sydney airport to it?
Mr Mrdak: It is very important to note that the study has worked on the basis that Sydney (Kingsford Smith) Airport would remain the primary airport for Sydney. It is one of Australia’s most important pieces of national infrastructure and has great economic benefit, being located where it is, and has great community access benefit, located where it is. There is no suggestion that that will change. So the study was based on how you maximise the efficiency of Sydney airport, recognising the need to balance its operations with the community’s needs in terms of environmental impacts. How do you maximise the efficiency of Sydney airport’s operations? At the same time, what does Sydney need to do in the future to provide additional capacity? We work on the basis that supplementary or additional airports around the world have grown traffic based on particular geographic areas, where they have been able to grow traffic in their geographic location, and that there are some segments of the market which may look to grow new markets at other airports. But we do not anticipate that that will reduce the primary focus on Sydney airport, particularly for international and business domestic travel.
Senator RHIANNON: You have spoken about additional capacity. Would the smaller planes be moved to the supplementary airport, and would Sydney airport then be able to increase its capacity for the big jets—the 747s, the airbuses et cetera? Is that the trend here?
Mr Mrdak: Certainly there is a trend to what we call upgauging larger aircraft. However, there are two issues. Firstly, the government has been very clear that it will retain the protections for regional access to Sydney airport. Secondly, there are limits to the upgauging that Sydney airport can accommodate because of its physical size. So there are issues there about Sydney airport’s longer-term capacity to continue to upgauge to larger aircraft and be capable of handling them.
As I said earlier, around the world, supplementary airports have grown their markets. Certain categories, such as low cost operations, look to supplementary airports. Given the nature of the regional demand for access to Sydney, it is unlikely that regional airlines would find a new supplementary airport attractive because predominantly you have a large number of passengers interlining and they need access to the services that would come through a primary airport.
Senator RHIANNON: Could you take on notice to provide more information about the upgauging? How much upgauging can Sydney airport handle?
Mr Mrdak: Certainly. The joint study looked at this very closely. There has been a significant increase in the numbers of people per aircraft. That will continue. We have some projections of that in the study.
Senator RHIANNON: Thank you. If there was a second or a supplementary airport—
CHAIR: I will have to make this short.
Senator RHIANNON: Last one. If there was a second or a supplementary airport in Sydney, would it bring relief from noise for people currently affected by Sydney airport?
Mr Mrdak: There are a range of initiatives being taken to reduce the noise exposure at Sydney airport. We have seen dramatic increases in what we call chapter 4 aircraft, which are new, modern aircraft which have a much lower noise footprint profile than previous generations of aircraft. But essentially Sydney airport will continue to grow as the primary airport for Sydney.
Senator RHIANNON: So the answer—
Mr Mrdak: There has been a dramatic reduction.