SUNDAY, 2 DECEMBER 2012: Qantas Flight QF44, a Boeing 737 with a capacity of up to 168 passengers is en route to land at Sydney Airport, but its had a pretty rough night so far.
10:59:01 PM: Landing gear down. Flaps extended. Commence final approach to land at Sydney Airport. Time’s ticking, and you have 59 seconds to get on the ground before curfew hits, and nothing gets in or out again until 6:00 AM the next morning. Anthony Albanese MP (Federal Minister for Infrastructure and Transport) could grant you a time extension …but he wont. Think of the voters in his electorate of Grayndler. He has Greens preferences to worry about – and they don’t like planes.
Continue descent. Altitude… 1,089 feet. Just seconds away from landing. One problem – it’s 11:00:20 PM and air traffic control informs you that you *missed it by that much*. You’re in command, and you have 2 options. You could land anyway and risk a fine of up to $550,000. The company wont like that. You think better of it and you take the second option – power up engines 1 & 2 and climb. You fly right over Albo’s electoral back yard in Grayndler, and his Inner-West hipsters who are just settling in to watch WikiLeaks: War, Lies & Videotape on ABC2, feel the force of a Boeing 737 overflying their houses as it powers-up and climbs to altitude and diverts to Melbourne. Of course, it would have made more sense and less noise for QF44 to land, but Albo and the curfew are inflexible.
For those on board, it was the second time that night they had been to Melbourne, and it’s not even where their flight originated. QF44 departed Auckland, New Zealand at 6:30 PM for a scheduled landing in Sydney at 8:05 PM, although due to a storm just 40 KM away from Sydney Airport, Sydney was overloaded with planes in holding patterns, and diverted QF44 which then flew to Melbourne where it was on the ground 47 minutes for a ‘splash-and-dash’ fuel stop, and then headed North to Sydney, which is where our story commenced.
To say that this was inconvenient for all involved is an understatement. After another hour in the air, Qantas would have then had to find accommodation and transport for the passengers, and to then have them back to Melbourne Tullamarine Airport not too many hours later to then fly them to Sydney. Qantas would then have an aircraft and crew out of position, wasted tons of jet fuel, and probably delayed flights at the start of new day.
Earlier that Sunday, Anthony Albanese was out with Rob Oakeshotte announcing aviation funding for Port Macquarie, stating that it will deliver jobs – all while his regime is paralysing Sydney and shutting it down every night between 11:00 PM and 6:00 AM.
The QF44 incident is not a unique event. The Minister must report on his inflexibility, with the report littered with incidents, with another in the first few pages stating:
“Jetstar were able to source another aircraft and requested a dispensation to arrive at Sydney Airport no later than 11:01pm. There were 165 passengers and six crew members onboard.”
In another 2012 incident, an Emirates A380 with a full load of 550 passengers was delayed departing Sydney due to a thunderstorm, and requested special dispensation to take off shortly after curfew. Request denied. Emirates, stating it would be impossible to find accommodation for 550 passengers at such a late hour, decided to break curfew and take off anyway and risk a $550,000 fine.
Qatar airlines, ranked number 1 in the world, has ruled out flying to Sydney until it becomes a 24 hour operation. No long-haul airline wants their aircraft grounded for 7 hours, not earning revenue. Meanwhile, Melbourne and Perth will receive this economic activity, and Sydney misses out.
The Sydney curfew is a relic of the Howard Government which sought to appease aircraft noise campaigners after the construction of the third runway, in addition to caps on the number of aircraft movements per hour.
One thing Sydney could never be accused of being is the city that never sleeps. Successive federal governments have been asleep on this issue and are afraid of NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) residents who despite being exposed to less aircraft noise than ever through quiet engine technology, are a threat to governments. It’s time for Sydney to join the rank of international cities and have a 24 hour functioning airport.