It’s been one year since construction began on the Western Sydney International (Nancy-Bird Walton) Airport. After first being flagged in the 1940s, the bulldozers have finally moved in and work to build Sydney’s new Airport has hit the ground running.
“I often say that building this Airport is neither a sprint nor a marathon – it’s both,” Graham Millett, Chief Executive Officer of Western Sydney Airport, said.
“We’ve been set a unique and mammoth task – to build a greenfield airport that will eventually become the biggest gateway to Australia, all while working with industry, the community and all levels of government to ensure the project is a catalyst for the transformation of Western Sydney.
“This really is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and we’re determined to get it right.”
After decades of uncertainty, during which time the idea of building a new airport for Sydney became part of the city’s mythology, in 2014 the Australian Government announced that Badgerys Creek would be the site of Sydney’s new airport.
In 2017, it established Western Sydney Airport, the Australian Government-owned company that is building and will eventually operate Western Sydney International.
Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, gave the long-awaited signal to fire up the bulldozers on 24 September 2018.
“We’ve been running at full speed ever since,” Mr Millett said.
“Within a year we’ve moved more than 1.5 million cubic metres of earth, the Airport has been officially named after one of Australia’s great aviation pioneers, we’ve awarded the contract for major earthworks and started the search for the designers and builders of the Airport terminal.
“We’ve also just cut the ribbon on the Western Sydney International Experience Centre, which is one of our most important milestones to date because it’s the first structure completed on the Airport site.
“The Experience Centre is a space where our community can learn about more than just the Airport itself, but the fact the Western Sydney region is at the cusp of a huge, exciting transformation – and why now is the right time.
“The insatiable interest in this Airport never ceases to amaze us – within the first few days of the Centre opening, we had hundreds of visitors through the doors.”
The construction task ahead
Western Sydney International is one of the biggest earthmoving projects in Australia’s history.
Around 25 million cubic metres of earth will need to be moved on what is a large and hilly site – around 1780 hectares (double the area of Kingsford-Smith Airport) with the difference between the highest and lowest points equal to a 12-storey building.
The shifted earth will largely remain on site, with the amount needed to fill the valleys roughly equal to what will be taken off the hills, meaning fewer trucks on the road.
Early earthworks, which involves moving 1.8 million cubic metres of earth on six per cent of the site, is being carried out by a joint venture between Lend Lease and CPB Contractors.
The joint venture has also been awarded the contract to carry out major earthworks following a competitive procurement process, with work to begin in early 2020.
While the construction of the Airport terminal will not begin until 2022, a global design competition is underway, with the architectural contract set to be awarded by the end of 2019, when the first concept designs for the Airport’s terminal precinct will be released.
“We’ve shortlisted five parties that will create their vision for the Airport’s terminal precinct, which includes a plaza, a public transport interchange and the integrated international and domestic passenger terminal,” Mr Millett said.
“We’ve required each architectural team to outline how they intend to involve university students with a link to Western Sydney in the Airport design process because we want to ensure that this is a genuine learning opportunity for our local students.
“There are many factors that will have to come together in the design to ensure our customers have a seamless experience in an enjoyable environment.
“From the moment they arrive, we want passengers to have a stress-free journey – we want an airport that passengers love using and that offers airlines an efficient and reliable product.
“We’re not just building an airport, we’re building an airport business, one that needs to generate a return for the taxpayer investment in the project.
“That’s why we’ve entered into MOUs with Qantas Group and Virgin Australia Group – not only are we starting early discussions about potential routes and services, we’re also drawing on their experience and insights to design the Airport.”
The Memoranda of Understanding will also see the organisations collaborate on technology, innovation and sustainability – another key focus for the Airport.
“We are building an airport for Western Sydney’s future, so we are focused on sustainability and minimising the impact of the Airport on the environment,” Mr Millett said.
“There are strong rules around the sustainability standards we must meet as we design and build Western Sydney International, but we are looking for opportunities to go further in ensuring the Airport represents a commitment to future generations.”
An early proof point of the project’s sustainability focus is its partnership with one of Sydney’s other iconic projects, Sydney Metro.
More than 500,000 tonnes of high-quality sandstone is being transported to the Airport site from Metro tunnelling sites at Chatswood and Marrickville to be used as a high-strength foundation to support the construction of the runway, taxiways and roads on site.
“It’s about sustainability and efficiency, reusing resources and reducing carbon emissions,” Mr Millett said.
“It’s a great example of how we can make the most of Sydney’s infrastructure boom to not only save taxpayer funds but also cut down on waste.”
Transforming Western Sydney
One of the key reasons behind building an airport in Western Sydney is bringing desperately needed jobs and opportunities to the region. Western Sydney International will create thousands of jobs during construction and thousands more once it is operational, but the project has strict targets to ensure jobs go to locals.
“I’m thrilled to say that we’re currently exceeding all of our employment targets for local, diverse, Indigenous and learning workers,” Mr Millett said.
“As of the end of the last financial year, local workers made up 54 per cent of the total workforce at Western Sydney Airport, which is almost double our construction phase target of 30 per cent.
“We have a target of 50 per cent local employment once the airport is fully operational.
“Every day, tens of thousands of Western Sydney workers need to leave the region for work, spending hours in their cars or on the train and this Airport will be a game-changer for those people.
“We want to be able to give people the opportunity to work closer to home and spend more time with their families rather than commuting.”
Mr Millett said $37 million from the Early Earthworks contract had already been invested locally.
From Narellan to Norwest, Blacktown to Bringelly, 24 businesses, including small family-run and Indigenous businesses, have been delivering the equipment and services needed to build the Airport, whether it’s concrete pumping, plumbing, fencing, demolition, or plant equipment supplies.
“We know the flow-on effects of this economic stimulus go much further when it comes to boosting the local economy and this will increase significantly once major earthworks begin in early 2020,” Mr Millett said.
Western Sydney International is at the centre of a tri-government vision to create Sydney’s third city, the new Western Parkland City, comprising the local council areas of Blue Mountains, Hawkesbury, Liverpool, Fairfield, Wollondilly, Camden, Campbelltown and Penrith.
As part of the Western Sydney City Deal, signed in 2018 by the Federal, NSW and eight local governments, the new city has been estimated to create 200,000 new jobs across a wide range of industries over the next 20 years, with thousands of those jobs based at Western Sydney International and its on-airport business park.
At almost 200-hectares, the Western Sydney International business park will be comparable to the size of the Parramatta CBD and home to a range of employers that will benefit from being on the doorstep of Sydney’s new airport, from airlines and hotels, to the technology and corporate sectors.
The prime airport real estate is currently being planned by Australian firm Architectus, with concept designs expected later this year.
Separate from the surrounding Aerotropolis, it will offer 5G connectivity, with open space, walking and cycling paths and quick, easy motorway access via the new toll-free M12 at the Airport’s front door.
Both the passenger terminal and the business park will each have their own metro stations with the Sydney Metro Greater West expected to be open in time for the Airport’s first flight in 2026.
As well as the new Metro line and the new M12 Motorway, the Federal and NSW governments have invested billions of dollars into upgrading roads around the Airport site and there will be rapid bus services connecting the Airport to Western Sydney centres.
“We’ve got a population of two million people here in Western Sydney and it’s fast growing. We’re acutely aware of the importance of making this city an even better place to live and do business by delivering the infrastructure and jobs people need,” Mr Millett said.
One of the most important industries for creating jobs and business opportunities in the region will be air freight.
For producers across the region and beyond into regional NSW, many of which are small to medium and family-owned, Western Sydney International will be key to growing their businesses by unlocking lucrative Asian fresh-produce markets.
Western Sydney Airport recently entered into MOUs with 10 of Australia’s major freight companies, working with them to design concepts for an on-airport freight precinct and to begin discussions about potential operations from the new Airport.
“For freight companies, it’s an enticing proposition,” Mr Millett said. “We can offer landside and airside freight access on a greenfield site and 24/7 operations.
“Tell us what size facility you need, tell us what technology you want in it and how you want it designed to optimise
It seems the industry has responded strongly to Western Sydney Airport’s call, with freight companies signing up to work on concepts for the air freight hub including Australia Post (including StarTrack), DB Schenker, DHL Express, DSV Air and Sea, FedEx, Menzies Aviation, Swissport, Qantas Freight, Skyroad Logistics and Wymap.
Mr Millett said the freight precinct has the potential to become Sydney’s most important freight hub, generating thousands of jobs.
“The Airport’s unrestricted 24/7 operations will be the key to unlocking new export opportunities for businesses and producers across Western Sydney and NSW,” he said.
Australian airports currently transport more than one million tonnes of air freight annually and this is forecast to grow considerably over the next decade.
The first stage of the Airport has the potential to process around 220,000 tonnes of air freight each year through its proposed on-airport freight facility, with multiple dedicated freighter aircraft stands. This is set to scale up with demand, potentially handling 1.8 million tonnes of air freight each year in the future.
The Airport’s freight precinct is set to have dedicated road access at the southern end of the site, separating heavy vehicles from passenger traffic entering from the north.
Mr Millett said more MOUs with airlines and freight companies are on the way, along with market soundings for more contracts, including for construction of the Airport business park.
“It’s been a huge 12 months for Western Sydney Airport and the next year will be even bigger as construction ramps up,” Mr Millett said.
“As someone who grew up in Western Sydney, I’m proud to be delivering an Airport that is already creating so many opportunities for locals. Western Sydney International is on track to open to international, domestic and freight flights in 2026.”