Airlines to help in the design of Sydney’s new airport – an important input into the new city gateway

Western Sydney International (Nancy-Bird Walton) Airport (WSA) has entered into memoranda of understanding (MoUs) with the Qantas Group and Virgin Australia Group. The MoUs will see the airlines provide insights into designing and planning WSA, as well as having early discussions around future Qantas, Jetstar, Virgin Australia and Tigerair services using the airport.


Summary:

  • Qantas and Virgin Australia will assist in the planning and design of the new Western Sydney Airport in Australia;
  • Construction is underway, along with an ‘aerotropolis’ and transport gaps are being filled;
  • The Australian government is paying for the airport, so far, but that could change.

While it is not unknown for airlines to become involved in green field airport planning, as Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce said, “It’s not often you get to help design an airport from scratch.” A key objective for Mr Joyce is “a high level of efficiency for airlines, which helps us keep fares lower”.

Key areas of collaboration will include: passenger terminal and boarding; technology and innovation opportunities, particularly around baggage handling, security and customer service; airport access, including train stations, parking and rideshare facilities; air freight and cargo facilities; and sustainability, including resource reuse and recycling.

When Western Sydney International opens in 2026 at Badgerys Creek, it will be the closest airport for around 2.5 million people out of a total city population of 5.2 million. As the country’s third largest economy and home to one in 10 Australians, Western Sydney is said to be “booming” right now, but remains isolated and even ‘cut off’ in the opinion of some from downtown and the existing Kingsford Smith airport.

MAP – Badgerys Creek is a suburb of Sydney,  located approximately 41 kilometres west of the central business districtSource: Google Maps (NOTE: Badgerys Creek is identified left/centre in a red outline. Kingsford Smith Airport is close to Botany Bay.)

It is regarded as a high priority by Infrastructure Australia, on the grounds that the existing airport cannot service passenger growth to an anticipated 76 mppa by 2030. WSA is intended to complement operations at Kingsford Smith Airport rather than challenge and compete with them.

Qantas and Virgin Australia will have a say on airport access, including train stations, parking and rideshare facilities. That is an important development because the airport is in a fairly remote area but will have 24-hour, curfew-free, operation. There is little point in operating 24/7 if passengers can’t get to and from it.

The Australia and New South Wales governments also committed to constructing the first stage of the North-South Rail Link from St Marys to Badgerys Creek Aerotropolis via WSA and completing the rail link by the time the airport opens in 2026. That is critical because at present there are no lines running close to Badgerys Creek. The nearest stations to what is a semi-wilderness 40 km (25 miles) from the Sydney Central Business District are 12 km north and 15 km to the east.

A report released in March 2018 proposed that another line would ultimately service the airport: an ‘East-West Link’ from Parramatta to the ‘Badgerys Creek Aerotropolis’. This East-West Link would likely form an extension of the already-announced Sydney Metro Greater West. An extension of the South West Rail Link to the Badgerys Creek Aerotropolis was also proposed.

A new motorway, the M12, is intended to provide direct access into the airport and was tendered in Jan-2017. It will connect with the existing M4 and M7 motorways. That project alone will cost USD940 million, with construction to be completed in the mid-2020s to coincide with the airport’s opening.

The airport is being developed by the public sector, the owners of Sydney Airport having forgone the first right of refusal on WSA that was offered to them. The Australian Government is investing up to AUD5.3 billion in equity to deliver the airport through a government-owned company, ‘Western Sydney Airport’. Whether or not it will want to lease or sell it remains to be seen but some companies have already expressed an interest in operating it once the initial risks have been encountered and overcome, including the Sydney Airport owners.

In its early stages the airport will operate on a standalone basis, be quite modest, with only one runway and associated terminal facilities and handle up to three million passengers annually, to extend to 10 mppa, at which time (between 2040 and 2050) a second runway might be considered.

Originally envisaged as a ‘low-cost’ facility, that might not turn out to be appropriate by 2026 as the ratio of domestic LCC seats in Australia has settled at around 26% of the total and international LCC seats at 14%. Both have been higher in the past. There is much to interest the Qantas Group, which includes both full-service and low-cost carriers, and Virgin Australia, which switched from a low-cost to a full-service model, in the design of the airport.