David Knibb BRISBANE A decision could come as early as August on whether to build Sydney's second airport after the project was cleared by an environmental report.

The Badgery's Creek project, which has been stalled for years by long debates, made a breakthrough in July when a second audit of the government's environmental impact statement (EIS) uncovered no major new problems. John Anderson, Australia's transport minister, has promised an early decision. Sydney's present airport will reach capacity by 2006 or 2007 and, Anderson says, "the time for a decision has come".

Opposition to the Badgery's Creek site has grown over the years as more people have moved into the area west of Sydney. When the airport planners first proposed it in the 1970s, Badgery's Creek was in a rural area. It now adjoins suburbs with some 18,000 residents. They have convinced local councils and the New South Wales state government to oppose the new airport. Last year their consultants raised enough concerns for the federal government to order a second audit of its EIS.

The new audit, conducted under contract for the department of environment and heritage, outlines again how much noise and air pollution the new airport will create. It identifies, however, no new major effects. Robert Hill, federal government and heritage minister, is due to make his recommendations to the transport minister in several weeks time. The proposal is for a curfew free airport that will handle up to 30 million annual passengers. Construction costs are estimated at A$4.8 billion ($3 billion) with a completion date in 2006.

The pressure is growing on Sydney to build a second airport due to increased traffic, a legislative cap of 80 movements an hour and a curfew. Sydney also faces competition from Brisbane and Melbourne for the role of Australian hub to the Star Alliance. According to Terry Morgan, chief executive at Melbourne airport, Sydney's slot restrictions make it hard for airlines to cut connection times.

The issues at Badgery's Creek involve more than the environment. "The big question is: who's going to use it?," says Peter Roberts, Brisbane-based aviation consultant.

Roberts predicts that none of the airlines and few passengers will want to move from Sydney to Badgery's Creek, 47km (30 miles) from the city. Start-up carriers, which do not have enough access to Australia's main airports and can operate point to point services, will be most attracted to the new airport.

Source: Airline Business