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Australia

Australian government approves second Sydney airport

Australia's largest city, Sydney, is to get a second international airport after the government approved plans. The project aims to bolster the country's economy as a resources-driven boom seems set to weaken.

The Australian government on Monday approved plans for the construction of a second international airport in the eastern city of Sydney, ending decades of indecision and political squabbling.

The airport, which is scheduled to open in the mid-2020s, is to take pressure off Australia's main gateway, the Kingsford Smith Airport, one of the oldest airports in the world.

Initially, it will have just one runway able to handle the world's largest commercial airliner, the Airbus A380, with a second expected to be needed by 2050.

The government hopes that the new airport, expected to cost 5 billion Australian dollars (3.5 billion euros, $3.7 billion), will boost the number of air passengers flying to the port city by about a quarter, or 10 million people per year.

The projected site, Badgery Creek in the city's western suburbs, was first mooted in 1946, but squabbling about noise pollution, funding and alternative sites had bogged down the project ever since.

It is expected that the location 45 kilometers (28 miles) from the city's central business district will enable the new airport to operate without the overnight flight curfew (from 11 p.m. - 6 a.m.) imposed on the old one, which is reaching capacity anyway.

'Screamingly obvious need'

"The need for an airport in western Sydney has been screamingly obvious for many years," Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull told reporters in Sydney.

"We are getting on with the job, and this airport will be built ... it will become a catalyst for investment and industry in western Sydney."

Critics of the project, however, say that government approval of the plans is premature.

"This is an airport being approved without flight paths, without commitment to a rail line and without a solid plan for jobs," said Stephen Bali, head of the Western Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils.

Australien Flughafen Sydney (picture-alliance/dpa/D. Lewins)

Kingsford Smith Airport is nearing capacity

Potential slowdown

The project is the centerpiece of a bid by Turnbull to counter a potential economic slowdown in the country, which has been benefiting for years from Asian demand for the natural resources in which Australia abounds, in particular coal, iron ore and minerals.

Many see this demand as currently plateauing off, meaning that the boom of the past years is likely soon to subside and force the country to strengthen other sectors to soften the fall.

Kingsford Smith Airport, located eight kilometers (five miles) from the city center, handled 39.7 million passengers last year. This number is forecast to more than double in the next 20 years.

The airport is named after early Australian aviator Charles Kingsford Smith (1897-1935), who in 1928 made the first flight from the United States to Australia, among several other landmark feats.

tj/msh (AFP, Reuters)

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