THE final boarding call for Australia’s only ”on tarmac” tour at Sydney Airport has been issued.Citing security concerns as its reason, the Sydney Airport Corporation will not renew the licence first issued back before September 11, 2001, to Airside Tarmac Tours, which leads bus inspections of the airport.The owners of the tour company, Frank and Sherrie Monardo, met this week with the chief executive officer of Sydney Airport Corporation, Russell Balding, who was sympathetic and had no issue with the way the tour operators worked but said it was a security decision not to have any more unnecessary vehicles on the tarmac.The Monardos had the support of the parliamentary secretary for infrastructure transport, regional development and local government, Maxine McKew, the aviator Dick Smith and three folders full of letters from Sydney schoolchildren, who along with community and disability groups have been the main patrons of the behind-the-scenes tour of the airport that was once a Mascot cow pasture.When Airside Tarmac Tours started in 1997 it was a world first and today Sydney is one of the few cities in the world – other than San Diego – that offers visitors a glimpse into the workings of a major airport. More than 300,000 people have been on the tour, which takes busloads of visitors within three metres of jets in aircraft hangars and within 80 metres of aircraft during take-off and landing.”The great majority of our customers are year 1 and 2 students; one must wonder what sort of security threat they would pose,” Mrs Monardo said.Participants – adults pay $47 and children $41 – must go through the same security checks as domestic travellers. Dangerous goods and cameras are not permitted. A pilot and tour guide, Phil McLeod, says buses on the 90-120 minute tours get so close to aircraft ”the whole bus vibrates and you can smell the avgas”. The tours are popular for children’s birthday parties, and the odd plane-spotting romantic has been known to pop the question beneath the roar of a 747 on the champagne-and-prawn twilight outing.Peter Bamford, an aviation enthusiast who started the tours in 1997, at the height of the 1990s controversy over aircraft noise, said they provided nothing but positive free public relations for the airport. He sold the business to the Monardos in 2002, the same year the airport was privatised and Macquarie Bank took over airport operations as the major shareholder.”This is not just the loss of another small business thanks to Macquarie Bank, it’s a loss to the people of Sydney – its schools, universities, disability services, not to mention tourists,” Mrs Monardo said.”This is an iconic unique tour of Sydney – up there with the [Harbour] Bridge climb – it shouldn’t be allowed to disappear,” Mr Bamford said.A spokesman for Sydney Airport acknowledged ending the tours would be a disappointment for some people, especially school groups and social clubs.
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