Cap on flights at Sydney Airport is fast becoming a cap on tourist arrivals

The continued cap on aircraft movements at Sydney Airport is fast becoming a cap on international visitor arrivals at Australia’s largest gateway, the Tourism & Transport Forum Australia (TTF) warned today.

Instead of increasing the airport’s capability to receive more international flights and build visitor numbers, Federal Government restrictions on aircraft movements in Sydney are sabotaging decades of global campaigns to attract tourists.

“It’s time for action on the crippling constraints which limit aircraft movements during the airport’s operating hours, impacting the national aviation network and the national economy. These restrictions must to be reviewed to enable the growth of our international visitor economy to continue,” said Margy Osmond, TTF CEO.

“Sydney Airport has an overnight curfew banning most aircraft operations, and we know that will not change, but reviewing the slot and movement caps is a common sense reform we must address as a priority.”

Beyond the curfew, Sydney’s constraints on aircraft operations include:

  • Maximum of 80 aircraft arrival and departure ‘slots’ per operational hour (slot cap)
  • Maximum of 80 aircraft movements per operational hour (movement cap)
  • Aircraft activity measured every 15 minutes, restricting movements to 20 per 15 minutes, and
  • No flexibility to reschedule delayed aircraft to the next 15 minute block, even while continuing to meet the hourly limit of 80 movements.

“Australia has worked long and hard to attract international visitors, going right back to the famous Qantas koala ads and Paul Hogan’s legendary ‘shrimp on the barbie’ campaign. But now our global efforts to grow the visitor economy are being undermined and threatened by the failure of successive Federal Governments to facilitate tourism growth with sensible changes to help maximise the efficiency of our national aviation network.”

Ms Osmond said a surge in visitor numbers, particularly from China, Korea, Japan and the US, had increased long-haul flights to Sydney, with many arriving early in the morning. But airlines increasingly are unable to secure early access at times their passengers most want to arrive, or when long-haul aircraft arrive early. Instead of being cleared to land, early-arriving planes are often directed to circle outside Sydney.

Assessments of aircraft movements every 15 minutes were “restrictions within restrictions”, creating even more constraints on airline operations in Australia’s largest airport.

At London’s Heathrow Airport, for example, there are also restrictions on aircraft movements. But caps apply to annual movements, not hourly, or 15-minute checks.

“Aircraft noise and emissions have dropped dramatically, and airlines continue to invest billions of dollars in larger, next-generation aircraft, which produce a fraction of the noise and emissions of their predecessors,” said Ms Osmond.

“Yet today’s space-age planes are restricted by stone-age regulations, and we are increasingly constraining the ability of international tourists to enter our country, many of them at the end of long overnight flights. This can only hurt Australia’s growing visitor economy.”

 TTF has urged the Federal Government to implement these reforms:

  • Increase hourly slot caps and movement caps to 90 aircraft per hour to meet peak demand and prepare for growth not just in international traffic, but also domestic flights
  • Eliminate the 15-minute measure, to enable much greater flexibility in aircraft movements within the legislated hourly caps, and
  • Align aircraft slot and movement rules at Sydney Airport with other developments such as airport terminal expansion, in readiness for expected increases in tourist arrivals.

“Tourism is critical to Australia’s future economic prosperity, and becoming increasingly important as the nation’s resources boom slows and manufacturing declines. Governments claim to recognise tourism as a key driver of economic growth, but are failing to back up their warm words with sensible, measured operational reforms at our largest international gateway,” said Ms Osmond.

“It’s now time to ensure that the nation’s largest airport, and the national aviation network, is ready and able to accommodate the huge volumes of visitors we have invited here. Without immediate action, we will squander the tourism gains we have worked so hard to achieve.”