Coping with the Boom

In 2008/9, Perth was the fourth largest airport in the country in terms of passenger throughput and the fastest-growing Australian capital city airport, with its domestic and international terminals handling 9.7 million passengers. (All images - PIA)

Emma Kelly reports from Perth, Western Australia.

In 2008/9, Perth was the fourth largest airport in the country in terms of passenger throughput and the fastest-growing Australian capital city airport, with its domestic and international terminals handling 9.7 million passengers. (All images - PIA)

Perth in Western Australia is the most isolated state capital city in the world, so an efficient airport offering flights to destinations across Australia and to major international centres is a necessity.  But the growing population and booming resources industry in the state has meant that the airport is struggling to keep pace with demand.
In 2008/9, Perth was the fourth largest airport in the country in terms of passenger throughput and the fastest-growing Australian capital city airport, with its domestic and international terminals handling 9.7 million passengers – 2.6 million international and 7.1 million domestic.  It is expected to handle around 10 million passengers in 2009/10.  Long-term growth is expected to be between 4-5% per annum which would push passenger throughput to around 18.9 million.  Today 29 airlines operate services out of Perth Airport, serving 15 international and 35 domestic and regional destinations.  Typically, there are more than 1,900 arriving and departing flights each week, says the airport.
As a result of the continuing growth, airport operator Westralia Airports Corporation (WAC) has had to bring forward by more than a decade plans to expand the airport.  The move was originally planned to start in stages after 2020, but the work will now be done in three stages in a A$1 billion (US$878m) project starting later this year.
Phase One will see the construction of a terminal dedicated to regional traffic – Terminal WA; Phase Two and Three will consolidate all other domestic and international services in new facilities, based around the existing international terminal. This will deliver: “substantial operating efficiencies, economies of scale and improvements to passenger service”, according to the airport’s masterplan, which was approved by the government late last year.
But the development is by no means a simple feat.  “The consolidation of Perth Airport’s operations is a complex process.  It involves relocating approximately two-thirds of the airport’s aviation activity and requires careful consideration of a range of complex inter-related safety, operational, customer service and commercial considerations,” acknowledges the masterplan.
Typically, there are more than 1,900 arriving and departing flights each week, says the airport. As a result of the continuing growth, airport operator Westralia Airports Corporation (WAC) has had to bring forward by more than a decade plans to expand the airport.

The Australian Government approved the A$136 million (US$119m) first phase in March.  Terminal WA will be dedicated to charter and regional services operating within the state – primarily the daily fly-in fly-out services transporting workers to remote mining locations.  Aviation charter flights in WA have increased by 41% in the past seven years – from 23,650 in 2002 to 33,300 movements last year.  These services currently use the existing Terminal Three and general aviation facilities, but this is placing great strain on the airport’s capacity to serve commercial flights, according to the government.  The current domestic area comprises Terminal Two, which is under long-term lease to Qantas, and Terminal Three, which is home to domestic carriers Virgin Blue, Skywest, Alliance and Tiger Airways.
When completed in 2012, the single-level Terminal WA will have 34 aircraft parking positions and a number of airlines operating from the existing domestic terminals will relocate to Terminal WA.  As well as catering for turboprops and small jets, which mainly serve the fly-in fly-out sector, the terminal will handle jets up to Boeing 737 and Airbus A320-size, which also operate regional services.  It will be capable of processing up to 1,800 passengers each hour at its peak – a 50% increase on the existing capacity and will cut operations at the existing domestic terminals by almost 30%, according to the airport.
An airport spokesman explained: “Perth Airport is well advanced with the design of the first stage of Terminal WA.  A design team has been appointed – Hassells – and the construction and fit-out contracts will be tendered in the near future.”
This year will also see a further A$15 million (US$13.1m) invested into the domestic precinct, says WAC, to allow the terminals to cope with demand up until consolidation takes place.  The work will include linking the departure lounges of the Qantas Domestic Terminal and the Domestic Terminal Three, as well as three new aerobridges, an improved departures lounge and new food and beverage options.  Qantas completed a A$75 million (US$66m) upgrade of its domestic terminal late last year, with additional baggage carousels, six new check-in counters, an additional airbridge and new security screening points.
By the end of this year, the airport plans to have completed the airside link between the Qantas Terminal and Terminal Three, as well as additional aerobridge positions and a refurbishment of the departures hall.  That will be followed by a second phase, with a target completion date in the second half of 2011, which will include further expansion of the departures hall, additional aerobridge positions if required, an enhanced airside bus facility and reconfiguration and expansion of the apron to increase the number of Code-C aircraft positions.  Subject to demand and airline requirements, a third baggage reclaim belt will also be installed.
Phase One will see the construction of a terminal dedicated to regional traffic – Terminal WA; Phase Two and Three will consolidate all other domestic and international services in new facilities, based around the existing international terminal.

A major redevelopment designed to improve vehicle and pedestrian access at the front of the domestic terminals was due for completion at the end of May.  The work includes a new eight-bay dedicated taxi pick-up lane close to the terminal forecourt, a dedicated bus lane, a 16ft (5m) widening of the forecourt and a permanent passenger pick-up and drop-off lane with overhead canopies.  “This investment will greatly improve traffic flows and pedestrian amenities.  Dedicated traffic lanes have been designed to streamline taxis, buses and public vehicles.  The taxi lane has been in operation since January and features eight dedicated boarding bays.  The waiting time for taxis has reduced from up to 45 minutes to around 10-15 minutes in busy periods,” says WAC.
Meanwhile, WAC says the design of the international terminal expansion is proceeding in consultation with airlines and will need to take into account recently announced changes to passenger security screening processes.  “The timing of the programme is influenced by the discussions with airlines and will also be timed to ensure the least impact on the travelling public and airline operations,” the airport adds.
By the end of this year the airport is aiming to have in place improved quarantine and immigration facilities.  Baggage reclaim, quarantine and immigration and customs capacity will all be expanded by mid-2012 and in the second half of 2012 expanded check-in, outbound passenger security screening, departures hall and four additional airbridge gates up to Airbus A380 capability are targeted for completion.  Contractors for this work have yet to be appointed.
“The International Terminal expansion design will also enable the introduction of domestic services as a future stage of works, including up to six aerobridge served positions,” says the airport.
“The delivery of the ultimate consolidation of all services at the international precinct is dependant on passenger growth and airline demand for facilities.  Our current forecasts would see this occurring between 2017 and 2021,” says WAC.
It added that a concept plan has been developed for the actual consolidation, with the stages and timeframes for construction to be determined during the design phase.
The redevelopment will also require significant landside development to cater for the increased demand, including new car parking, office accommodation and hotel facilities.
Road access is also being improved.  In the first stage, Perth Airport is investing A$21 million (US$18.5m) into a public road connecting the international and domestic terminals, which will cut connection time to 10 minutes and is due for completion late this year.
Additionally the airport is working with the WA State Government to improve road access to the airport, which is 10km east of the central business district, as well as a possible rail link.  Meanwhile the Federal Government has jointly funded a transport strategy with the WA Government to look at longer term solutions for road, freight and public transport access around the airport.