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Two airports in Sydney could prove a 'mixed blessing': IATA boss Tony Tyler

The government's decision to develop a second airport at Badgerys Creek in western Sydney rather than closing down Kingsford-Smith and consolidating all operations at the new facility could prove a "mixed blessing", according to outgoing International Air Transport Association chief executive Tony Tyler.

Mr Tyler is a former chief executive of Cathay Pacific, which moved its hub to Hong Kong International Airport after the old Kai Tak airport was closed in 1998. He said cities tended to work better as hubs when there was only one major airport.

"I am very glad to see Badgerys Creek nominated as the site," Mr Tyler told Fairfax Media. "Now, they are going to keep the other airport open. That is perhaps a mixed blessing."

He said it was no doubt a complex decision for the government to make, but generally speaking other cities had proven it was better to have a single airport as a hub.

"Obviously then the [domestic] passengers can connect through international," he said. "I don't know how they plan to divide the traffic distribution [between Badgerys Creek and Kingsford-Smith]. It is quite hard to think of a way that really works."

The government has laid out a vision for the airport in western Sydney starting with a single runway on a similar scale to Adelaide Airport, with low-cost carriers expected to be among the first customers when it opens around 2025. However, eventually it would develop into a parallel runway operation with a larger capacity than Kingsford-Smith.

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No train line is expected at the time Badgerys Creek opens, but the government expects one will be developed in the future.

Mr Tyler said the lack of train line would be acceptable while the airport operated on a smaller scale based on point to point traffic, but once it became a larger airport there would be a need to connect it to Kingsford-Smith by rail. "Clearly it is important to connect but it has to be done in a way that doesn't cost an arm and a leg," he said.

Sydney Airport has the first right of refusal over the development of a second airport and most analysts believe it will take up the option because it makes financial sense to operate the airports as a system rather than providing a launchpad for a competitor.

The government is expected to fund about $1.5 billion of earthworks for the project but it has yet to announce how it will do so. One of the options under consideration last year under former Federal Treasurer Joe Hockey was an extra $5 per passenger levy on domestic flights and $10 on international flights through Sydney Airport, but no decision has yet been made. A new infrastructure and transport minister, Darren Chester, was appointed on Saturday to replace former Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss, who had previously overseen the portfolio.

Mr Tyler said IATA, whose members include Qantas and Virgin Australia, was against the idea of charging current passengers to fund future infrastructure.

"Why should passengers who aren't using it have to pay for it?" he said. "If passengers don't use a toll road, they don't have to pay for it. These are debates that will develop as time goes on. They are arguments we have whether it is [in Sydney] or in Hong Kong. London Heathrow is a classic of the genre. Today's airlines distinctly don't want to be paying for capacity that will be used by new competitors."​

Malaysia Airlines chief executive Christoph Mueller said getting the transport infrastructure right would be key to any airport's success.

"Right now you enjoy a fantastic airport [at Kingsford-Smith] but you are stuck in traffic when you want to go downtown," he said. "In Kuala Lumpur, the airport is 70 kilometres from the city centre but the commute by train or car is so seamless that even if the distance is four times, it is faster."

Mr Mueller said Malaysia Airlines would consider flying to Badgerys Creek because as with other new airport openings, it could open up an opportunity to gain new slots, better terminal facilities and a better passenger experience.

"If it is not your hub and you have no connectivity, it is really all about the customer experience," he said.

The reporter travelled to Singapore as a guest of Scoot

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