Monday, March 20, 2017

A brief look at Melbourne's airports (for comparison?)

Melbourne. It's a city somewhere south-ish of Sydney. And it bears comparison with Sydney, in an instructive sense, because it's like a sister-city, just smaller and somewhat quainter. I like it.

Apparently they - both the Victorian State and some private interests - are thinking ahead and looking at another major airport option for Melbourne. This would be to the south and east. Now this could be a realistic and earnest attempt to reserve some appropriate land and prepare for the future, or equally it could be a political effort driven by other agendas - like making a buck out of hemmed-in Essendon by closing it down and selling off the land. (Mind you it's already privately leased and partly developed.)

Or it could be a bit of both.   

Melbourne is blessed with airports, to be honest. Sydney has managed to close off many of its options, like Schofields and Hoxton Park, and has tended to build up Mascot and Bankstown instead. (The RAAF has Richmond, of course.)

(Sydney once had a plethora of post-war, sizeable airstrips scattered all around the Sydney Basin. Check out the list. Only a choice few remain in use.)

I've flown in and out of Melbourne's Tullamarine a few times, and have seen it grow from almost nothing to quite something. But it's still nothing like Sydney's Mascot. Well, it's smaller and more pleasant with a lot less history. For history try Essendon instead.

There's room for growth at Tullamrine and also a case to close - or keep - Essendon, too. Even Tullamarine is getting surrounded. It's what happens - successful airports attract people and businesses. They can be closed and redeveloped but you lose the transport utility, which gets pushed further out. Currently Essendon is a mixed-use zone which retains that utility close to the CBD.

Speaking of 'further out', Sydney struggled to get Badgery's up and running - if indeed it is running. Ambling, perhaps. I remember grabbing a hard-copy of the MANS report back in the 1970s, when it looked like Peat's Ridge would get the nod. And the to-ing and fro-ing that has happened ever since was fascinating to observe. Badgery's is a better site in many ways, a lot flatter and whilst slap-bang in the west of Sydney where lots of people live, still rural enough to put a buffer around the noise. It balances Mascot's extreme easterly location, certainly. Some train links would help, but buses will do for starters. And it will probably spend a few decades handling freight before pax, anyway.

It's far more complicated than that, of course.

Sydney also has Bankstown, just as Melbourne has Moorabbin. Both have a lot of history, although Bankstown probably wins on that score, in case you are keeping score. Both are hemmed in by housing and light industry plus some open space.

Bankstown is almost Sydney's Essendon, but more closely parallels Moorabbin as a GA facility. The scheduled flights that have operated out of Bankstown always fell short by some measure or other and were largely abandoned, despite many efforts over the decades. WWII saw a lot of use fro Bankstown, including aircraft assembly or manufacture. Post-war has seen a gradual loss of such activity but considerable GA traffic. Being too close to Mascot and surrounded by too many vocal voters in their ever-so-local houses makes it an unlikely prospect for growth. If anything it has shrunk.  

So back to Melbourne. They also have Avalon, a domestic and sometime international airport with plenty of land for expansion and existing heavy-aircraft maintenance facilities situated close to Geelong.

Plus a host of GA fields dotted around, like Moorabbin but also Lilydale, Bacchus Marsh and Melton. 

Do they really need another airport? Traffic-wise, probably not, or at least not yet. For convenience, maybe. For growth, possibly. The south-east makes some sense as the somewhat inconvenient Avalon is to the south and west and Tullamarine is to the north. But it's hardly a pressing need. It's more of a strategic planning initiative, to get the idea out there and to reserve the land now. Which is what Badgery's was, too. Reserve the land ahead of time so that the option is kept open. (Although that was more luck than good planning.)

Conclusions? It's probably too early to say with any certainty, but it looks like a cross between good planning and a bit of 'I wish'. It's certainly a better situation than that of (arguably) under-resourced and ill-planned Sydney. Badgery's may change that, of course.

More reading on Melbourne's "3rd" airport. And a possibly serious proposal, or some self-promotion.

An historical note on aviation at Fishermen's Bend and Monomeith Park.

And a mixture of historical, military and sometime civilian operations from Laverton, Point Cook and Werribee which we'll list under RAAF Williams

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