SYDNEY • Sydney's second international airport has been cleared for take-off after decades of debate.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull yesterday signed off on long-awaited construction plans after the Australian government approved a facility that will initially handle 10 million passengers a year.
The new airport at Badgerys Creek, 45km away from the Central Business District in the city's western suburbs, is scheduled to open in the mid-2020s. It will ease pressure on Kingsford Smith Airport, about 8km from the city centre.
"The need for an airport in western Sydney has been screamingly obvious for many years," said Mr Turnbull, adding that it would be a catalyst for investment in the area.
Kingsford Smith operator Sydney Airport Holdings has first right of refusal to build the A$5 billion (S$5.3 billion) project. The first stage will see the building of a 3.7km runway able to handle Airbus A-380s and 10 million passengers a year, with a second runway expected by 2050.
Kingsford Smith Airport, which handled 39.7 million travellers last year, is reaching its limit, with passenger numbers through Sydney forecast to more than double in the next 20 years.
It is also subject to a nightly curfew, with flight restrictions between 11pm and 6am. Badgerys Creek is expected to be curfew-free, given that fewer people live nearby.
Badgerys Creek was first mooted as an airport site in 1946. In later decades, the federal government bought about 1,800ha in the area and kept the surroundings largely free of development.
"The important point is the airport is being planned for future capacity expansion," Urban Infrastructure Minister Paul Fletcher said. "We are taking decisions that allow Sydney's and Australia's aviation capacity needs to be met, not just over the next 10 or 20 years, but over the next 30, 40, 50 years and beyond."
But not everyone is happy, with local government body, the Western Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils (WSROC), saying the signing off on plans was premature.
"This is an airport being approved without flight paths, without commitment to a rail line and without a solid plan for jobs," said WSROC president Stephen Bali.
Mr Fletcher insisted that the environmental impact statement set out a series of indicative flight paths and that the airport would be "rail ready", with improvements to road links also part of the plan.