Melbourne’s Tullamarine Airport continues to eye the third runway. The airport says construction on a third runway could start as early as 2022, with planes operating on the runway by late 2025. But a significant roadblock remains – the Australian Government is yet to give the third runway the green light.

Fast growth at Melbourne Airport drives the need for a third runway

A private company,  Australia Pacific Airports (Melbourne) Pty Ltd, owns and operates Melbourne Airport on a 50-year lease from the Australian Government. Behind Australia Pacific Airports is an array of institutional investors, predominantly superannuation and pension funds. However, Melbourne Airport is on Australian Government land and remains subject to government planning approvals and procedures.

Before the travel downturn, Melbourne’s Tullamarine Airport was one of the fastest-growing in Australia. Unlike its major competitor, Sydney’s Kingsford Smith Airport, 439 miles (706 km) to the north, Melbourne Airport is not hampered by a curfew and has ample room to grow. With Melbourne Australia’s fastest-growing city, airlines were flocking to Melbourne Airport. It was just the sort of mix to fuel new runway aspirations.

The travel downturn has clipped Melbourne Airport’s wings. The airport is no longer as busy as it once was. But Melbourne Airport is pushing ahead with plans for a third 3,000-meter runway. They say it will provide tourism, business, and freight opportunities and boost Victoria’s state gross product by more than US$13 billion.

Melbourne Airport eyes a parallel north-south runway

From an efficiency perspective, Melbourne Airport says the third runway will provide greater flight capacity based on airport operations and aircraft taxiing, minimize closures caused by crosswinds, and delay the need for a fourth runway by two decades.

Melbourne Airport was favoring a second east-west runway. But in late 2019, the airport altered course and opted for a second north-south runway. This was due to weather data showing a north-south runway would ultimately accommodate more takeoff and landings. Currently, Melbourne Airport can handle around 45 flights per hour. A third runway would double that. Melbourne Airport says the new runway will cost around US$1.17 billion to build.

The third runway is not a new idea. It is about as old as Melbourne Airport – that is, around 50 years old. But the pre-travel downturn boom at Melbourne Airport saw a renewed focus on the project.

In Melbourne Airport’s 2018 Masterplan, the airport predicted Melbourne’s population would overtake Sydney during the 2030s.

This presents Melbourne Airport with an enviable challenge,” the masterplan stated, asking how it would cater for an estimated near doubling of passengers to 67 million annually by 2038. The master plan says a third runway is critical to handling the expected growth.

Australian Government approval needed to proceed

In addition to the new north-south third runway, Melbourne Airport wants to extend the existing east-west runway from 2,200 meters to 3,000 meters. Right now, the third runway remains in the “detailed planning” stage. Among other things, the Australian Government needs to approve the construction of any new runway. There is a formal procedure for doing this via the submission of a major project development plan. Included in that submission are detailed planning documents and considers the runway’s impact on the community. To date, the Australian Government has not signed off on the project.

But that hasn’t stopped Melbourne Airport from making progress. A report in Australian Aviation last week noted Melbourne Airport had spent US$35 million buying 200 hectares of nearby land.

While Melbourne Airport has been around for 50 plus years and its ambitions for more runways just as long, the proposed third runway has seen residents in some nearby suburbs lodge complaints, citing noise and environmental concerns.

Melbourne Airport remains keen on the third runway and is sticking to its 2025 timeline. But like a lot of infrastructure projects in Australia, it isn’t built until it is built – and that can often take quite some time.

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