THE Hawke Government was warned 27 years ago that Sydney airport was approaching capacity and a second airport was needed.We're still waiting.
Cabinet papers for 1984 and 1985, released by the National Archives of Australia, show the government of Prime Minister Bob Hawke concluded the necessary extra airport capacity for Sydney could not be achieved by building extra runways.
In a submission to cabinet in November 1985, then transport minister Peter Morris said a decision on acquiring a new airport site could not be deferred, although it was difficult to forecast just when capacity would become inadequate.
"Even the lowest assessments of growth and change do not put this point later than 2010," he said.
Because of the pressure of urban development around Sydney, there were only two realistic locations for a second airport - Badgerys Creek, west of the city, and Wilton, south of the city.
The two sites emerged from a detailed assessment of possible contenders that started with more than 100 locations before being whittled down to 10.
Both sites had pluses and minuses and Morris said a final decision would need to come down to people-and-access issues.
Badgerys Creek could be seen as the more attractive from the viewpoint of aviation development, he said.
However, it was likely more expensive with land acquisition assessed at $31.5 million, against $1.8 million for Wilton.
Morrison said while there might be some time to consider the scope and timing of a second Sydney airport, a decision on acquisition could not be deferred.
"Failure to reserve a site now would mean that development of a SSA (second Sydney airport) would not be an option for the future," he said.
Sydney airport dates from the 1920s and its use expanded dramatically after World War II, with planning for a second airport beginning in the 1970s.
In 1986, Morris announced Badgerys Creek was the preferred site, with the government spending some $170 million during the next decade to acquire land, but hedging on a decision to proceed.
Then, contrary to initial policy, Labor decided in 1989 that Sydney should have a third runway which was completed in 1994.
Because of the airport's proximity to residential suburbs, aircraft movements were restricted between 11pm and 6am, a significant constraint for an international gateway.
Sydney's future airport needs remain unresolved.
Most recently in March, a study conducted jointly by the federal and NSW governments, found further inaction on increasing Sydney's airport capacity would have dire economic consequences.
It recommended proceeding with a new airport at Badgerys Creek and lifting the limit of 80 aircraft movements per hour.
The Gillard Government promptly rejected both recommendations.