Canberra revs up to become Sydney's 'alternative' airport

By David Flynn, January 18 2016
Canberra revs up to become Sydney's 'alternative' airport

Canberra Airport will finally see its international ambitions takes flight this week, with Singapore Airlines tipped to announce a Singapore-Canberra service running four days a week.

It's the first step in the nation's capital – which has to date only seen domestic flights – becoming an alternative to Sydney Airport for travellers not just within the ACT but the southern and southwestern centres of New South Wales, including Wollongong.

The airport will also be ideal "overflow airport" suggests Canberra Airport managing director Stephen Byron.

"Sydney will become more crowded and that's when our role as an overflow airport comes into play," Byron (below) has previously told Australian Business Traveller.

Canberra Airport's Stephen Byron: Canberra is an ideal "overflow airport" for Sydney
Canberra Airport's Stephen Byron: Canberra is an ideal "overflow airport" for Sydney

"We're the only curfew-free airport between Sydney and Melbourne. We won't formally be a second Sydney airport, but we believe there will be parts of the market that will grow for us in response as Sydney's capabilities are challenged."

The new Singapore Airlines flights are expected to include a Canberra-Wellington leg to connect to the neighbouring New Zealand capital.

South-East Asia and New Zealand have long been 'first cab off the rank' targets for Canberra Airport, while the airport's 2009 masterplan also flagged China as a likely 'medium-term' route.

The recent redevelopment of Canberra Airport included an 'international terminal' zone with space set for aside for customs, immigration and quarantine facilities, although the fitout won't take place until international services are ready to begin.

The terminal’s departure lounges and aerobridges are capable of switching from a domestic function to an international gate, with two of the existing 14 boarding gates earmarked for international flights and provisions for a further six international boarding gates.

The runways have also been upgraded to cater for larger jets including the Boeing 747 and Boeing 777-300ER, along with what the airport describes as "Airbus A380 restricted operations."

"So we've got a fully kitted-up airport, you can go anywhere off our runway with a fully-laden aircraft that you can go out of Sydney Airport," Byron says.

The likelihood of the jumbo and superjumbo shutting in and out of Canberra is of course much less so than smaller aircraft such as the popular Airbus A330 and potentially the Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

Read more: Singapore Airlines to launch international flights from Canberra Airport?

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David Flynn is the Editor-in-Chief of Executive Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

31 Jan 2012

Total posts 107

HIgh speed rail to Sydney and you have a Gatwick or Luton.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

15 Dec 2014

Total posts 284

Exactly what I was going to say


12 Apr 2013

Total posts 1519

Who cares when majority airlines flying directly to Sydney? No one would be interested to take train, pay extra for ticket and have a ride for hour and half if you can fly directly to Sydney. Canberra can only steal few pax that going to Albury/Wodonga and alike, in other words nothing. Only Canberian could benefit not to fly via Sydney.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

05 Feb 2013

Total posts 54

The other potential use of Canberra would be by airlines that are currently capped under the Air Services Agreement, particularly those that operate hubs that work well with early morning arrivals which they can't achieve exSydney because of the curfew.

For example, if Cathay had upguaged all flights to Sydney and couldn't expand Sydney capacity any further, a late night flight timed to arrive in HKG early in the morning similar to CX178 exMEL might be an option. They could even operate a SYD tag, although I doubt it would be cost-effective.

12 Dec 2012

Total posts 1024

Most air service agreements with Australia with caps (seats or flights per week) only apply the caps to the main gateways of PER, BNE, SYD and MEL (some also count AVV).

States that have used all their allowed flights to Australia under these agreements (eg Qatar or Hong Kong) can fly to these other ports without limit.

eg, the agreement with Qatar was capped at 14 flights/week. QR was using all of these for their MEL and PER flights. The cap was increased to 21 flights last year and QR almost instantly used those new rights to open SYD. Then ADL was added as ADL is not limited by the air service agreement cap.

Same for CX. Hong Kong has 70 flights/week. CX uses all of them for their PER, MEL, SYD and BNE flights. The CX and HX flights to CNS, OOL and ADL don't count to the limit.

CX wants more flights to Australia, but can't add flights to SYD without reducing flights elsewhere. Opening flights to CBR would be allowed.


There is nothing stopping an airline from making a "codeshare" deal with an interstate ground transport provider such as Greyhound, Firefly, Murrays, CountryLink, Vline or a proposed VFT such as the deals airlines have with Amtrak in the US or Eurorail in Europe.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

21 Jul 2014

Total posts 142

It is a nice airport, would be nice to see if utilsed more.

Air New Zealand - NZ*E

17 May 2015

Total posts 93

Yes high speed train is an option, however, I am not so sure Gatwick or Luton are good compartative examples as they are only 45-50km from down-town London. Sydney to Canberra is approx 260km (depending where you measure from) this is a similar distance as Paris to Brussels where the TGV takes 1hour 25mins at 320kmh.

12 Feb 2015

Total posts 91

David this is not Canberra's first international scheduled service. Air Pacific (as it was then) operated twice-weekly NAN-CBR-NAN services for a period in 2004. They were started as a seasonal winter service, but not repeated in subsequent years.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

11 Oct 2014

Total posts 692

Thanks CBR boy .. you beat me to it. It's surprising how short some memories can be.

Somewhat off topic, but I wonder if Fiji Airways (ex Air Pacific) would now be re-examining possible CBR services with the new fleet and more profitable operation? I'd almost bet that Air NZ might be scribbling some back of the envelope figures, as well.

17 Jun 2011

Total posts 64

So other airports are able to upgrade / improve as a result of Sydney Airport not upgrading as 'Sydney's capabilities are challenged' aka a total mess!

Flying out of Sydney over the Christmas Holidays was a nightmare - T1 looked like an evacuation centre!

Simple upgrades are not the answer - a combined strategy of additional airports, high speed rail, road infrastructure are all needed in tandem to cater for growth and future generations.


Emirates Airlines - Skywards

30 Nov 2015

Total posts 730

Canberra, don't know about being dumped in the Bush Capital....Scary!!!  High speed trains won't be here in our lifetimes. I do Business in Germany, fly into Frankfurt, ICE train to Cologne in 55 mins at 300km most of the way, supurb, been in operation for years. DB's First Class ICE is better than Emirates Buiness class all the way to Frankfurt, favourite part of the entire trip.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

11 Oct 2014

Total posts 692

... and when QF was serving FRA, you used to be able to get QF FF points for the DB journey as well  :-)

26 Nov 2015

Total posts 3

Excellent news for CBR airport.  I've thought for a while its only a matter of time until the international airlines see it as a viable new destination, and SQ fits the bill nicely.  They can offer one-stop services from Canberra through to much of Asia and Europe so the consumer wins.

Having recently done a return in and out of Sydney Airport on our way from Singapore to the South Coast, this alternative sounds ideal.  Traffic into Sydney Airport was a nightmare, then there's dealing with getting in or out of Sydney itself.  Plus check-in and customs, which can be chaotic at the best of times.  Having Canberra as another option (even with the additional hour of driving to the Shoalhaven region) is something we would seriously consider.

On the point of a fast train from Canberra to Sydney, I really don't think its needed to make CBR viable.  A handful of domestic flights arriving in from the likes of Wagga, Albury, Dubbo, Bathurst, Orange etc with passengers connecting onto the SQ flight would go a long way to making the route sustainable.  And I'm betting there's a number of passengers out of those regional airports that are also fed-up with transfers at SYD...

17 Jun 2011

Total posts 64

Fast rail becomes viable when you connect to Albury and Melbourne to the south and Newcastle, Gold Coast and Brisbane to the north.

This rail link would then be serving 10-15 million people along the east coast...not bad.

19 Jan 2016

Total posts 7

Build a high speed rail between Brisbane, Canberra and Melbourne and you won't need to spend $billions on Badery's Creek.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

05 Feb 2013

Total posts 54

And how many billions would the high speed rail cost to build? How much would the taxpayers have to pump in each year to keep the service running?

If we don't want to build a second airport in Sydney, or least delay it for another 10 years, just lift the curfew on the existing airport.

19 Jan 2016

Total posts 7

HSR between SYD and CBR would cost about the same as building Badgerys Creek. The studies have all been done. Unfortuanately all public transport seems to need a subsidy to operate but SYD to CBR would be less than the other HSR routes.

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