The release of Sunshine Coast Airport’s Master Plan 2040 reveals an exciting future for the region.
Passenger numbers are expected to more than double in the next 20 years to three million, unlocking tourism and economic benefits to support the region’s long-term prosperity.
Much of the opportunity ahead will be made possible by the airport’s new runway, which is now under construction.
The project is a good example of targeted investment to deliver capacity and efficiency gains that will serve the long-term needs of the community, realise new markets for local business and industry and help position the Sunshine Coast as a truly international destination.
Importantly, this can be achieved most efficiently with a single runway system that will make the best use of the airport’s existing terminal and airside infrastructure.
There are a number of reasons it is important that the existing runway be decommissioned when the new runway is operational.
Firstly, the visual aspect of the existing runway from the air has the potential to cause confusion, leading pilots to perceive a short, 800m runway and the aligned taxiway just beyond it as one complete runway.
This is obviously a serious safety issue. In fact, the Federal Aviation Administration in the US has commented on the potential for alignments like this to cause a pilot to lose situational awareness.
Further, the new apron taxiway to be created as part of the project will be too close to the existing runway to be safe or compliant.
The Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) sets the minimum distance required between a runway and taxiway to ensure aircraft can safely move about the airfield.
In this case, the airport would fall short of the minimum standard by almost 40 per cent if the existing runway remained open.
This is not a small difference and can’t be ignored in the face of very clear requirements set by the aviation industry’s safety authority.
The parking position of the wide body aircraft that the airport will soon be able to accommodate also prevents the continued use of the existing runway.
The runway’s Obstacle Limitation Surfaces (OLS) – in effect invisible site lines that determine height limits for buildings and objects surrounding the runway – are set using clear guidelines to maintain safe operations.
In this case, the tall tails of wide body aircraft would sit above the allowable height limits when parked, making the use of the existing runway impractical and unsafe once the new runway is operational.
Beyond these issues of compliance, the use of converging runways – as the new and existing runways would be – is recognised by the aviation industry as presenting additional operational challenges.
Airports Council International recommends converging or cross runways be avoided because of the risks and inefficiency they can create, noting they are not a common feature of the modern airport master plan.
These risks are real. But any concern about the capacity of a single runway simply are not.
Melbourne Airport currently has two runways and can facilitate up to 240,000 flights per year.
Sydney Airport, which has up to two of its three runways in operation at any one time, facilitated more than 320,000 flights in 2017.
These are significant numbers that obviously require multiple runways in operation.
But even single runway operations in Australia are welcoming a high number of aircraft movements each year.
Cairns Airport facilitated more than 48,000 aircraft movements in 2017 using a single runway. And in the south, Hobart Airport facilitated almost 19,000 aircraft movements in the same year.
These airports continue to progress their own growth plans using a single runway, including the pursuit of new international services.
By contrast, Sunshine Coat Airport facilitated just over 8000 aircraft movements in 2017. This shows the significant additional capacity, far beyond the forecast doubling in traffic, that its new runway can achieve.
A second runway is simply not required. What’s more, the maintenance of the second runway would add cost and complexity to the airport’s operations and take resources away from the all-important task of attracting new air services – and the growth that comes with it – to the region.
The tourism benefits of a runway capable of facilitating long haul flights from Asia are obvious: a direct link to the Sunshine Coast will boost the local tourism industry.
A future where the airport serves eight destinations, compared to four, could also mean a great deal more than a doubling in capacity.
With a new runway comes the opportunity for bigger aircraft, bringing more passengers with every flight.
This means growth can come not just from the new services the airport pursues, but the existing services that will be able to use bigger aircraft to bring more people to the region with each flight.
In addition, the freight opportunity is also significant. About 80 per cent of freight travelling through Australian airports is in the bellyhold of passenger aircraft.
Meat, fish and perishable consumables – such as the region’s berries – are the nation’s largest air freight exports by mass, highlighting the potential for local agriculture.
Many of Australia’s top routes for air freight are to Asia, the same locations that represent a huge tourism opportunity for the region.
Sunshine Coast Airport’s new runway project is a game changer for the local economy. With the support of the community behind it, the opportunity ahead can’t be underestimated.
Editor’s note: The Sunshine Coast Airport Master Plan has been released for public comment. For more information, click here.
By Caroline Wilkie
About Caroline Wilkie
Caroline has been CEO of the Australian Airports Association since 2011.
The AAA represents all major regular passenger transport airports in Australia as well as council airports. The membership spans from councils with
grass strip runways to Australia’s major gateways. The AAA also represents a further 140 corporate members. The AAA is engaged in research,
developing industry publications, education, advocacy and major industry events.
Caroline has a Masters of Public Affairs and more than 15 years’ experience in Association Management.