There are few issues that bring out the bizarre in human nature like airports. The decision by Melbourne airport to go ahead with plans laid down 40 years ago inevitably has become a black comedy as vested interests hijack what should never have even been a controversy.
Trouble is the issue, wherever it occurs in Australia, usually has major national implications and this is no exception as the state of New South Wales is one of the chooks lopping off its head and both Victoria and Queensland are laughing all the way to the bank.
However, residents who took advantage of cheap land prices and moved into the suburbs around Tullamarine are the noisiest campaigners in 2012.
Melbourne Airport, which presents major advantages to the aviation business as an unrestricted 24-hour facility, was there long before most of the residents, who relinquished certain legal rights when they moved in.
The existence of the airport was a major moderator of the price of surrounding houses and land. Now, however, using the tried and true template for pressure groups, Fighttheflightpath.org.au, has sprung into existence to lobby government to ban expansion of the airport, even though many local residents work there.
The doomsday scenario is a neat trick to fudge the fact that airports have never been so quiet. Residents with rabbit ears struggle to hear the world’s biggest airliner, the A380, because Airbus set out 20 years to ensure even the fussiest whinger would agree the quiet giant is a good neighbour.
Most of the noisy old bangers like the Fokker F28, early model 737s and the Boeing 727 have all but disappeared from our skies since the raucous resident noise protest marches around Sydney airport in the 1990s. Even the 747 jumbo is a fading presence these days.
Airline managers rarely talk on the issue but the outspoken Akbar Al Baker, of the top-ranked Qatar Airways of the Middle East, had a crack last week against residents he considers are trying to have a bet each way.
Al Baker says Qatar Airways won’t be flying to Sydney until there is round-the-clock access.
"We are keen to fly to Sydney. I don't see any reason why it's not a 24-hour airport,” he said in Belgrade, Serbia, at his latest route launch. “Residents must keep in mind that with today's new technology, planes have (the latest) “stage four” noise emissions, so as soon as they take off and get to 500 feet, you can hardly hear them.
“All the fuss is being made by greenies, but they still want to travel in planes, yet (they) are restricting the growth of aviation and the economic benefits to the country.”
Meanwhile, back in Melbourne, Tullamarine airport itself has its hand out, in spite of the fact that that it has been handsomely profiting from its astronomical car parking revenue, partly because there is no airport train.
Suddenly everything is different because Tulla’s major competitor, Avalon Airport near Geelong, has won state government backing for $150 million spur line from the Geelong-Melbourne railway, which would neutralise much of its competitive disadvantage, compared with Tulla.
Tulla now not only wants a train, but also wants the government to pay for the upgrading of the road traffic nightmare into and out of the terminal, which, for years, has been a profit-generator by forcing motorists into expensive short-term car-parks with airport parking cops roaming the ramp to book people trying to avoid paying.
Avalon airport (and the FTFP group) also has a clever try-on, pointing out that, if Tulla was prevented from expanding, Melbourne could have all the growth it wants with zero impact on residents – because there aren’t any in the empty paddocks around Avalon.
In any case Melbourne, with two airports and another one proposed to the southeast of the city around Tooradin, is laughing as Sydney enters its fourth decade of inaction about what is now an urgent need for new runways.
Brisbane also has two airports with aggressive expansion plans in the southeast corner of the state.
Frightened of activist residents, New South Wales premier Barry O’Farrell is trying to shunt the problem down to Canberra, although there’s some appearance of sanity lately with the suggestion that residents will be least affected if the sensible old idea of building runways over the sea near Kurnell is resurrected.
There’s even talk that Sydney’s problems will be solved by around 2050 – about three decades too late.
In fact, I’m sure the Melbourne resident action group is just jostling for position and, when it comes to the crunch, will acknowledge reality. In the meantime, prepare for some colourful noise and fury.