Canberra Airport fit for a Capital

A major upgrade programme is underway to make Canberra’s facility one that befits the nation’s capital and allows it to cope with a projected 6.3 million passengers by 2029. (All images – CA)

Emma Kelly describes the redevelopment underway at Australia’s capital.

A major upgrade programme is underway to make Canberra’s facility one that befits the nation’s capital and allows it to cope with a projected 6.3 million passengers by 2029. (All images – CA)

Canberra Airport isn’t exactly what you imagine a capital city airport to look like.  But that’s because although Canberra might be the national capital, it’s not Australia’s major gateway – that accolade goes to Sydney Airport.
Canberra Airport doesn’t currently have any regular international passenger services, with the existing customer base of Brindabella Airlines, Qantas, Tiger Airways and Virgin Blue only going as far as Perth in the west of the country, Darwin in the north, with the bulk of operations focused on the east and south of the country.  To put things into perspective, Canberra Airport handles around 3.15 million passengers a year, while Sydney Airport handles ten times that figure.
However, a major A$350 million (US$307m) upgrade programme is underway to make Canberra’s facility one that befits the nation’s capital and allows it to cope with a projected 6.3 million passengers by 2029 and provide facilities for regular international flights for the first time.  The first stage of the upgrade – the Southern Concourse Terminal Extension – is due for completion this September, while the second phase – the Western Concourse Terminal Extension – has just been approved by Australian transport minister Anthony Albanese.
In the words of Terry Snow, Chairman, and Stephen Bryan, Managing Director: “Canberra Airport has evolved from a small, dilapidated facility to an internationally-capable, world-leading, sustainable multi-purpose airport development.”
The upgrade is needed as the airport is taking on an increasingly important role, according to the airport’s 2009 Masterplan. It is the only airport without operating curfews between Brisbane in the north and Melbourne in the south capable of handling Boeing 747 and Airbus A380 aircraft, it is growing as an airfreight hub and is expanding its role as a back-up for Sydney’s increasingly crowded skies.

The airport – located in the Majura Valley, five miles (8km) east of Canberra’s central business district – started from humble beginnings.  It was established in 1927, with the first structure – a hangar – completed in 1936.  Australian Air Force facilities and accommodation started in 1940 and runways were initially hard surfaced in 1948.  Construction of the present civil aviation area started in the early 1960s and by the mid-1960s there was a passenger terminal, airfreight sheds, hangars and workshops.
Passenger terminal extensions were conducted by the government, Ansett and Australian Airlines in the mid-1980s, but were in need of upgrade by the mid-1990s.
In the 1990s the airport was sold by the government as part of its divestment of airport assets, with a Canberra-based family business, Canberra Airport Pty Limited, purchasing the lease of the aviation facilities, land and infrastructure, including development rights, in 1998.
Upgrade and development work followed, including the upgrade of the common-user central terminal for the 2000 Olympics.  Terminal apron expansion, four miles (6.5km) of taxiway upgrades, upgraded terminal facilities, redevelopment of the ex-Ansett terminal as a multi-user facility, and a 1,968ft (600m) extension to Runway 17/35, which was strengthened at the same time.
But the airport is now more than ready for its next stage of development and embarked on the A$350 million AirVolution project last year, comprising a new terminal construction programme plus associated aeronautical and roads infrastructure.  The first stage will see the construction of a new Southern Concourse Terminal, aircraft parking aprons, new entry road system and multi-deck car park adjoining the existing terminal while the next stage will see the demolition of the existing Qantas terminal and construction of a new Western Concourse Terminal.
At the end, for the first time the completed new terminal building will offer dedicated facilities for regular international flights, which the airport is keen to attract.
The upgrade is needed as the airport is taking on an increasingly important role, according to the airport’s 2009 Masterplan.  It is the only airport without operating curfews between Brisbane in the north and Melbourne in the south capable of handling Boeing 747 and Airbus A380 aircraft, it is growing as an airfreight hub and is expanding its role as a back-up for Sydney’s increasingly crowded skies.
The current terminal building comprises a Qantas-owned and operated facility at the western end used by Qantas, QantasLink and Brindabella Airlines, and a common-user facility owned and operated by the airport at the central and southern end of the terminal used by Virgin Blue and Tiger Airways.  The terminal comprises five contact aerobridges with 12 aircraft parking positions suitable for aircraft ranging from the Metro up to the Boeing 767-300ER.  The terminal has two baggage collection belts, two security screening points and two banks of check-in counters.  Retail outlets comprise two cafes, a coffee provider, a newsagent/bookstore, currency exchange and car rental counters.
In the words of Terry Snow, Chairman, and Stephen Bryan, Managing Director: “Canberra Airport has evolved from a small, dilapidated facility to an internationally-capable, world-leading, sustainable multi-purpose airport development.”

Construction of a new Southern Concourse Terminal started in April and is due for completion in September, along with a new entry road system, multi-deck car park and new aircraft apron parking positions.  The terminal is being constructed over a former car parking area south of the existing terminal.
“Construction work is progressing at a rapid pace,” says Matthew Brown, head of aviation.  “The first multi-storey is already complete, two on-grade car parks are nearing completion and fit-out work is now under way in the Southern Concourse Terminal in preparation for its opening in September,” he says.
The construction work has been managed by local firm Construction Control, with a host of local suppliers, says Brown.  These include Benmax (mechanical), O’Donnell Griffin (electrical), O’Neill & Brown (plumbing), Canberra Building Services (cladding) and Hawker Roofing, together with national companies such as BCS for the baggage systems and international firms such as Martifier (glazing), Schindler (lifts) and ThyssenKrup (airbridges).  The design team was largely Canberra-based, comprising GMB Architects, AWT Structural Engineers, Rudds Mechanical and Electrical Engineers, MultiCAD (steel shop drawing) and Hughes Trueman (traffic engineering).  Aircraft planning was undertaken locally as well with GHD and Demeyne Aviation.
In March, the Federal Government gave approval for the second phase of the redevelopment programme.  The Western Concourse Terminal Extension will deliver a new multi-level passenger terminal, with separate departures and arrivals levels.  It will be 322,927 sq ft (30,000m2) and located partly over the existing terminal site and partly over the existing Qantas maintenance facility.  It will have up to 22 additional check-in counters, up to six extra aerobridges and international processing facilities.
Work on the Western Concourse Terminal Extension will start early next year and is scheduled for completion in the second half of 2012, says Brown.  Design contractors have been appointed and construction contracts are in the process of being finalised, he adds.
The airport is now more than ready for its next stage of development and embarked on the A$350 million AirVolution project last year, comprising a new terminal construction programme plus associated aeronautical and roads infrastructure.

Once the work is complete, Canberra Airport will boast a fully capable international terminal with dedicated customs, immigration and quarantine facilities with double the number of check-in counters available now; new food, beverage and retail outlets; new airline club lounge areas four times bigger than existing facilities; eight new glazed airbridges; expanded security screening areas; two multi-storey car parks each with 1,200 undercover spaces; two open air car parks with 450 spaces; and a parking guidance system.
As well as providing more capacity for check-in, baggage operations and airline club lounges, the new airport will have international terminal facilities for the first time.  As a result, the airport is in discussions with potential international operators, with services to New Zealand and points in Asia of immediate attraction.  The airport has already started expanding parking aprons to support operations of aircraft up to the Boeing 747.
As well as expanding and upgrading the airport, access routes are also being improved, but a long-discussed high speed rail system linking Canberra Airport with Sydney and Melbourne is not planned for the immediate future, with a 1998 Very High Speed Train proposal failing to come to fruition.  A high speed train could take less than 50 minutes from Sydney railway station via the airport and then non-stop via a new rail corridor to Canberra Airport, says the airport’s Masterplan.
Beyond the Western Concourse Terminal Extension, there are no plans at this stage for further major expansion, says Brown.  “Once complete, the new terminal will be four times bigger than the current facility.  However, there will be minor demolition works after completion of the Western Concourse Terminal Extension and a major strengthening upgrade of the domestic aircraft parking apron,” he adds.

Once the work is complete, Canberra Airport will boast a fully capable international terminal with dedicated customs, immigration and quarantine facilities with double the number of check-in counters available now; new food, beverage and retail outlets; new airline club lounge areas four times bigger than existing facilities; eight new glazed aerobridges; expanded security screening areas; two multi-storey car parks each with 1,200 undercover spaces; two open air car parks with 450 spaces; and a parking guidance system.