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The number of passengers passing through Melbourne Airport will double to 70 million a year over the next two decades, according to the airport's boss, who says plans for rail and road infrastructure must be put in place now to handle such growth.
Melbourne Airport chief executive officer Lyell Strambi said the expansion of the Tullamarine Freeway was welcome but could return to gridlock in as few as 10 years.
"That's exactly why we're out there saying we need the next solution – we really do need the government to be delivering on the rail project," he said.
"Given that's got a 10-year lead time, now is the right time to start."
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull this week said the rail link was "long overdue" and pledged $30 million to investigate where it could be built and how much it would cost. The Victorian government has committed $10 million to that study.
Infrastructure Victoria has said the link would be needed within the next 15 to 30 years and would cost up to $5 billion.
While advocating the rail link, Mr Strambi stopped short of saying the airport would itself invest in the project, saying the government-led study had to settle on what the project would look like first.
"Is it just to and from the airport or is it going to perform a wider function in the broader Victorian transport network?" he said.
This weekend marks 20 years of the airport's private ownership by Australia Pacific Airports. While Melbourne's population grew 40 per cent over the period, airport traffic has doubled to 35 million a year, and with an increasing portion of international traffic. One in seven passengers were travelling internationally in 1997; today, it is one in three, Mr Strambi said.
With census figures this week suggesting Melbourne could overtake Sydney as the nation's largest city in 2048 at current growth rates, Mr Strambi said Melbourne Airport would likewise overtake Sydney Airport as the nation's busiest.
The tables had already turned between the two airports, he said, with Melbourne attracting more international services because of Sydney's congestion and curfew constraints.
"If we're being frank, that is one of the elements of our success story in recent years," he said.
The airport is seeking Commonwealth approval to build a third runway, with hopes of it being operational by 2021 and which it says could handle capacity growth for the next 20 years. Building a fifth terminal would also soon be required, Mr Strambi said.
One of the major public criticisms of privatising the airport (it is owned by a group of private investors, mostly superannuation funds) is that it has been able to gouge airlines and customers, with parking fees increasing by 50 per cent in the past 10 years.
Mr Strambi said the airport needed to better communicate to customers the array of parking options available, from free through to premium.
"If parking was free, we would have absolute chaos out the front of our building," he said. "I don't think customers really understand our parking proposition but that's not their fault, it's ours."
This article first appeared on www.smh.com.au
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