Fly in, fly out: Sydney Airport movement cap, airline slots up for review

A cap on how many aircraft can fly in and out of Sydney Airport could be adjusted and its tightly held departure slots could be freed up to encourage competition under a government review of Australia’s busiest airport.

The Morrison government quietly launched the review last week in response to the Productivity Commission’s 2019 report into airport regulation, but has ruled out changing the airport’s 11pm to 6am curfew.

Sydney Airport could have its movement cap and slot allocation rules re-written.
Sydney Airport could have its movement cap and slot allocation rules re-written. Credit:Louis Douvis

However the way its noise-reduction “movement cap” of 80 departures and arrivals per hour is measured could be changed to reduce delays for passengers and airlines, a government discussion paper on the review says.

The cap is measured on a rolling basis every quarter of an hour, limiting it to 20 movements per 15 minutes, which the paper says is both “logistically challenging” and can exacerbate delays and disruptions.


‘There are [also] environmental impacts… such as requiring an early arriving aircraft to fly a longer flight path, often overhead of Sydney communities, to delay their arrival – reducing the overall efficiency of airport and airline operations,” the paper says.

The review is seeking feedback from stakeholders on the Productivity Commission’s proposal to measure movements on the hour, which it says would allow aircraft to be managed “more smoothly and less conservatively”.

“Airlines and their passengers would benefit through reduced delays to departing,” the paper says.

The paper also says the way Sydney Airport allocates departure slots is outdated by global standards and raises whether it should be updated, in particular to ensure new airlines can gain a foothold in the airport.

Regional airline Rex is planning to launch jet services between Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane in March but the paper notes it will be limited in accessing prime slots tightly held by Qantas and Virgin.

“How important is providing certainty for existing airlines, versus creating opportunities for new and/or expanding airlines?” the paper asks.

The review will also reconsider Sydney Airport’s regional access regimes, which reserves a number of rush hour slots for flights to and from regional NSW.

While intended to ensure connectivity around the state, rules mean 25 per cent of the airports peak-period slots are reserved for only around 5 per cent of its peak-period passengers.

“Reducing the number of regional slots during peak periods could substantially increase the peak hour passenger capacity,” the paper says, but would potentially disadvantage people living in regional NSW.

Sydney Airport CEO Geoff Culbert said the review was “timely and welcome” and that some of the existing regulations the airport operated under were “decades old and have led to unintended consequences that hurt the travelling public”.

“There are many other potential changes that could enhance the productivity of the airport and benefit the travelling public without touching the curfew,” Mr Culbert said.

The review will accept submissions up until December 11. It will be delivered to the government by the end of the year and be released publicly early next year.

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