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Retired engineer discusses the east-west runway and Sydney Airport

TONY EASTLEY: Well, in arguing that the reopening of the east-west runway at Sydney Airport is safe and practical, the Opposition Leader has relied on the work of engineer, Alan Bonham. Mr Bonham is a retired civil engineer and former university lecturer who began investigating ways of minimising plane movements over houses after his own home in Sydney's north was affected by the new runway at Kingsford-Smith. But Mr Bonham says he's not in any way political and that his report has been badly misrepresented by Federal Transport Minister, Laurie Brereton, who said the plan was impractical and would significantly reduce the capacity of the air[port. Mr Bonham spoke to Katie Cronin.

ALAN BONHAM: Well, I made a series of submissions to the Senate Committee on Airport Noise and, after each report, I canvassed it with experts, a whole series of interdisciplinary experts, captains, senior captains, Qantas captains, air traffic controllers, planners.

KATIE CRONIN: And so your consultations, if you like, with various experts led you eventually to put together what you call the 'fairer' report?

ALAN BONHAM: Yes, that's right. It's really the Bonham report, but it got to be called the 'fairer' report.

KATIE CRONIN: Now, this report has been used by John Howard to justify his claim that the east-west runway at Sydney Airport could be reopened, and that we could also have the two parallel runways running at the same time. Laurie Brereton yesterday said that that whole idea was impractical and basically said your report was impractical. What's your response to the attack that the report suffered in Parliament?

ALAN BONHAM: It's just not true, really. I mean, for example, the flight paths that we selected are in fact flight paths that are being used for a very long time; in fact they're included in the EIS as representative flight paths.

KATIE CRONIN: So these are flight paths that were being used while Sydney had two crossed runways for many years?

ALAN BONHAM: Yes.

KATIE CRONIN: One of the other major criticisms that Mr Brereton made was that your proposal would reduce significantly the capacity of Sydney Airport, down to perhaps only 30 movements an hour. What's your response to that?

ALAN BONHAM: Well, in many places around the world where they have parallel runways, they've decided to increase the capacity by putting a cross runway, which is very similar to the east-west runway. And the good example would be Frankfurt where, with just using parallel runways they had a capacity of 70 movements per hour. By using a cross runway in addition, they improved the safety and they got the capacity up to 85, at least 85. And with our mix of planes, probably it would be much higher.

KATIE CRONIN: Mr Brereton claims that air services has looked at your plan and dismissed it as impractical. Surely they are the experts when it comes to making these sorts of judgments.

ALAN BONHAM: Well, they were the experts that got the EIS all wrong and, in any case, we asked them to do a thorough study, which they said would take literally months. Well, we know that one day they hadn't looked at it and the next day they'd tossed it out, out of hand. One can only assume that this was a ministerial direction.

KATIE CRONIN: So you don't think that Air Services has actually had a good look at your report or had a chance to properly assess it?

ALAN BONHAM: No, of course not.

KATIE CRONIN: Why do you think that there's been such resistance to a reopening of the east-west runway by the present government?

ALAN BONHAM: Well, it's perfectly obvious that a few planes are going to go over the Minister's electorate.

KATIE CRONIN: You're as cynical about it as that?

ALAN BONHAM: Well, it's absolutely obvious. I mean, there's no other justification whatsoever.

TONY EASTLEY: Retired engineer, Alan Bonham, speaking with Katie Cronin.