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The Sydney Situation

08/06/2012

Does Sydney need a second airport, one way out in the hustings at a place called Wilton? Consider: Sydney’s Kingsford Smith International is a mere five miles from city center; Wilton is 38. The problem is, SYD’s three-runway layout can be buffeted by air and ground delays, so much so that Qantas’ CEO Alan Joyce and Foreign Minister Bob Carr have called for a new airfield. Capped at 80 aircraft movements per hour, FlightStats says in 2011 SYD managed the average on-time performance of 79.40 percent – not gruesome but not especially good either.

The people who run SYD want it to stay Australia’s key aerodrome. A recently-released Joint Study on Aviation Capacity for the Sydney Region concurs that Kingsford Smith should remain the prime airportal.

Pinning its plans on the continued infusion of larger-capacity craft, such as the gargantuan A380, SYD CEO Kerrie Mather contends in a prepared release, “We have seen passengers increase more than 40 percent in the past 12 years, with virtually no increase in the number of flights.”

That’s good. But the movement of the just over 36 million souls who migrated through Kingsford Smith in 2011 could be painfully slow. International to domestic transfer times can strain the best-planned connection. To add insult to that wait time, you often have to ante up more than pocket change for the privilege of transferring from Domestic Terminal T2 over to International Terminal T1. The T-Bus, incredibly, runs AUD$5.50 for the ten-minute ride. A taxi will take AUD $8 to $12. Even the AirportLink makes a buck – five of them for a two-minute transfer ‘twixt terminals. Try getting away with that in Newark.

There is, perhaps, hope on the horizon. Assuming Kingsford Smith remains the area’s main airport, SYD envisions integrating international domestic and regional flight services. “Sydney Airport is investigating reconfiguring the current domestic and international precincts to create two alliance-based precincts,” says Mather in a prepared statement. “Each would accommodate the entire operations of one of our major domestic airlines and its international partners.” Should such a set up come to pass, Mather maintains the results would be “faster connect times and more efficient airline and airport operations.”

If getting about SYD can be a bit of a pain, getting to it is easy. Nonstop air from North America? OAG says there’s Qantas from Dallas/Fort Worth; Delta, United or Virgin Australia from Los Angeles; Jetstar, Qantas and Hawaiian from Honolulu; United from San Francisco; and Air Canada from Vancouver. Qantas also fields one-stop, same-plane service from New York Kennedy.

As for getting to or from SYD by ground, a taxi runs in the neighborhood of AUD$30-plus and takes 15 minutes – if the traffic is decent. The train is a bit faster, and considerably cheaper: $12 gets you a one-way ride from city centre to the Domestic Airport Station. The ride takes ten minutes. The fare’s the same for the 13-minute trip from downtown to the International Airport Station.

While the long-term future of Kingsford Smith remains to be seen, there’s been a recent expansion and upgrade of the International Terminal – more space, more moving walkways, a new outbound baggage handling system, new outbound border control and security facilities. That should help shorten at least some of the airport’s queues.

T2’s been redeveloped too. Home to Virgin Australia, Tiger Airways, Jetstar Airways, Regional Express and the like stage flights from there. SYD has almost doubled the number of places to grab a bit to eat in T2. Where there were 23 eateries, there are now a full 44. There’s also a nicer ambience about, with more natural lighting. Security screening’s been expanded and restrooms have been upgraded. Nothing spectacular, but it all adds up to a better experience.

The best experience you can have on the road is getting to your destination in one piece. To that end, Kingsford Smith recently completed an AUD$100 million runway safety upgrade. Each of the airport’s strips now supports “runway safety areas,” overrun patches that provide pilots an extra margin of safety should they have to abort a takeoff or land a bit “hot.” The areas can support the weight of a full-loaded A380.

Should you need it just before or just after one of those long transpac trips, the Sydney Airport Medical Centre is located in T1, Level 3. That’s before Customs. The telephone number is 9667 4355.

More mundanely, there are plenty of places to grab a good beer and bite before boarding. One of them is Danks Street Depot in T1. It’s opposite check-in, before Customs. The specialties of the house include toasted reuben sandwich and lamb ragu. After Customs, in the central lounge, Bambini Wine Room offers soft music, good vintages and a nice ambience.

If there’s a fee to transfer from one terminal to the other at SYD, there’s none to use Wi-Fi. It’s free, both throughout International Terminal T1 and Domestic Terminal T-2. Premium passenger airport lounges do the heavy lifting here in terms of business amenities.

Hotels? City centre is very, very close. That opens up a bevy of options. At the airport itself, work recently began on a Rydges Hotel at Sydney’s International Terminal. Set for opening in 2013, SYD CEO Kerrie Mather said in a prepared statement that the facility “meets demand by international tourists as well as business travelers for convenient accommodations at Sydney Airport.”

Bottom line: Sydney is not a bad airport. It’s close to town and commensurately convenient. Get over the fact you’ve got to contend with queues and pay to change terminals and the experience will go down better.

Note: This story first appeared in the July 2012 edition of Business Travel Executive magazine.

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One Comment
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