Busiest year ever for Australian airspace

Australia experienced its busiest ever year in domestic aviation in 2010, Transport Minister Anthony Albanese said Wednesday as he again warned that pressures on Sydney airport were rising.

Speaking at an industry function, the minister said domestic flights had risen seven percent on 2009 while international passenger numbers rose to a record 26.8 million travellers - an increase of close to 10 percent.

"Domestically, the skies over Australia last year were the busiest they've ever been with just short of 54 million passengers taking almost 600,000 flights," Albanese said.

"Every way you look at it, 2010 was a record breaker for passenger kilometres travelled, for seat capacity and the number of aircraft trips."

Albanese said the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics figures compared favourably with data from the rest of the developed world, thanks in part to Canberra's financial crisis stimulus package.

"The popularity of air travel among Australians during the worst downturn since the Great Depression is testament to the resilience of our aviation industry," he added.

The minister said the aviation sector was, however, facing challenges presented by unprecedented globalisation, fluctuating fuel prices and the damaging impact of the strong Australian dollar on inbound tourism.

Albanese said Sydney airport - which handles about 40 percent of all international flights and sees about 130 million passengers flow through it each year - was under increasing pressure.

The Australian government is working with the New South Wales state administration to identify a location for a second airport in the city.

Albanese said Sydney's passenger numbers were expected to double over the next 20 years.

"Something has got to give, or the Australian economy will suffer," he said.

"Business will go elsewhere if they can't get into Sydney. Tourists will choose other destinations. We will see lost productivity as delays build and demand cannot be met."

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