The construction of the Western Sydney International (Nancy-Bird Walton) Airport (WSI) is building momentum as it achieves significant milestones, featuring a keen focus on sustainability.
The WSI, set to open in 2026, aims to ease congestion for Sydney residents, open up the city’s airspace, and accommodate 10 million passengers per year – among many other benefits for the growing region.
It also ensures that the airport will be sustainable for decades to come, with recycled materials being used in the construction, recycled water being captured and used on site, and landfill diversion being a top priority.
The airport is progressing well, with stage one of the full-service domestic, international and air cargo airport build achieving 50 per cent completion in May 2023.
Earthworks for WSI has been one of Australia’s largest earthmoving projects, with 26 million cubic metres of earth moved around the site, which was completed in April 2023. WSI’s CEO, Simon Hickey, said that these milestones are a testament to the great work being done by the team at WSI, contractors and staff.
“All is on schedule for WSI’s planned opening in late 2026,” Mr Hickey said. “The creation of jobs and the economic uplift that the new airport will provide, will be a multi-generational game changer, particularly for Western Sydney”. There are more than 3,200 people working on-site in this peak construction phase, 54 per cent of whom live in Western Sydney.
‘Learning’ workers, which include trainees, graduates, apprentices and workers training to upgrade their qualifications and skills, currently account for 30 per cent of the workforce.
“Over $400 million has been spent supporting around 250 Western Sydney-based businesses. This means more local jobs, more investment in the local economy and more opportunities for these businesses,” Mr Hickey said. “This investment in the region will only intensify as WSI moves through its construction phase and into airport operation.”
With more than $15 billion of investment in supporting road, rail and social infrastructure, and indirect job creation from flow-on benefits of the airport, the WSI is driving the creation of 200,000 new jobs in the region and boosting the local economy.
The national carrier, the Qantas Group, announced plans to operate up to 15 aircraft from WSI within the first year and to focus on recruiting locals, with approximately 700 jobs up for grabs.
The international, domestic and air cargo operations will provide a source of aviation growth for Sydney for decades and is predicted to generate an estimated $24.6 billion in direct expenditure by 2060, and a $23.9 billion increase in the nation’s GDP.
At opening, WSI will be able to cater for up to 10 million passengers a year and is planned to grow to service 80 million passengers annually in the early 2060s, making it around the same size as Dubai and Hong Kong today.
Large-scale construction continues
WSI’s 3.7km long runway will be capable of servicing any commercial aircraft, including the next generation of ultra-long-haul airliners.
The surface is made of two pavement types – rigid (concrete) and flexible (asphalt); the rigid sits at both ends of the runway and each is about 250m long. On the runway, 12,055m³ of concrete has been poured and two layers of flexible pavement will use a total of 53,227t of asphalt.
The entire runway sits on a layer of crushed sandstone (approximately 1800mm deep) that was imported from tunnelling projects in Sydney and the asphalt section of the runway sits on around 180,333t of fine crushed rock.
The WSI Airside Contractor has completed an innovative concrete trial for the rigid airfield pavements using ‘slip-forming’, which allows the concrete to be continuously poured and formed to its geometric shape, without traditional formwork.
Smart, sustainable travel
Mr Hickey said that technology and sustainability have been in the forefront of planning and installation. “Unlike other airports that need to retrofit ageing infrastructure, Western Sydney International Airport will capitalise on its unique greenfield opportunity by incorporating the latest technologies to create the best possible experience for airline passengers, the airlines and air cargo customers,” Mr Hickey said.
Recycled and reused content has been used during the airfield construction, and around 98 per cent of water used for the earthworks was recycled water that was captured on site.
The earthworks project reused or recycled a total of 5,435t of construction waste, which is a 96 per cent diversion from landfill and more than 400,000m² of recycled concrete was used.
More than 4.5 million tonnes of high-quality crushed sandstone from the Metro and WestConnex tunnelling sites has been used to construct heavy vehicle roads as well as a supportive layer that will sit beneath taxiways and runways on the airport site.
State-of-the-art, future orientated baggage handling systems are being installed, providing fully automatic sorting for departing, arriving and transfer baggage, using technology similar to that employed at major Amazon distribution centres.
To reduce carbon emissions and provide passenger comfort, the terminal has been designed with efficient air conditioning, lighting systems and façade design. EV charging systems will be located in the carparks and the terminal roof will generate renewable electricity and harvest rainwater.
The runway will be equipped with 3000 hi-tech aeronautical ground lights that will provide significant energy and maintenance savings, and the advanced Instrument Landing System will provide the capability for aircraft to land and take off in near zero visibility.
A Business Fibre Zone is also being created, which will allow customers to access nbn’s premium business product; 25km of fibre will be installed to service the airport terminal and the future business park.
WSI: more than an airport
Billions are being invested in roads and rail across the region to support the new airport, which will be connected by a new metro train line and toll-free M12 motorway. The Business Precinct will initially be a 20ha development area that will eventually grow to almost 200ha, about the size of the Parramatta CBD, and will feature two train stations – one at the on-airport Business Precinct and one at the passenger terminal.
“The benefits that the construction and operation of Western Sydney International Airport will create for Western Sydney, and particularly for local young people, are unlimited,” Mr Hickey said. “We have a vision, which is more than building an airport. Our aim is to empower our community to take advantage of the new era of jobs and opportunities that WSI will deliver to their doorstep.