Emma Kelly reports on Sydney Airport’s plans for development.
Bosses at Sydney Airport have proposed a major redesign to Australia’s largest gateway that will combine two terminals under one roof by 2019.
Under the plan, existing domestic and international terminals will be integrated into two allied airline group areas combining international, domestic and regional services.
It is designed to make better use of the airport’s facilities, boost aircraft gates and parking, support future terminal expansion and have the potential to improve traffic flow around the airport. It will have no effect on the airport’s current operating restrictions, which include a cap of 80 movements per hour and a curfew between 2300 hours and 0600 hours.
The plan comes ahead of this year’s anticipated release of the delayed Joint Study on Aviation Capacity for the Sydney Region, which has been conducted by the New South Wales (NSW) and Federal governments. The study evaluates the short- and long-term aviation infrastructure and surface transport requirements for the Sydney region.
The proposal would see current domestic terminals, T2 and T3, dedicated to the Qantas Group, which includes low-cost carrier Jetstar and its international partners. The current international terminal precinct T1 will accommodate Virgin Australia and its international partners, which include Etihad Airways, Delta Airlines, Singapore Airlines and Air New Zealand. The two airline groups and their partners currently account for 87% of all movements at the hub.
Other international operators, not aligned to either airline group, will continue to use T1 as previously, and officials have stressed the proposal would guarantee ongoing access by regional airlines. Consultation will follow to establish the operating areas of other carriers such as Tiger, Rex, AeroPelican and Brindabella.
The Qantas terminal would be expanded with more gates added, the existing T2 and T3 would be connected and there would be minor changes to the Virgin Australia precinct.
A new Qantas Engineering complex for line maintenance to support the airline’s current and future fleet is anticipated along with a new Virgin Australia hangar for wide- and narrow-body aircraft to serve as a dedicated maintenance base in Sydney for the group.
“This initiative has the potential to transform aviation in New South Wales,” said Kerrie Mather, the airport’s Chief Executive Officer. “First, it would improve Sydney Airport’s attractiveness as a global hub and deliver a better passenger experience every day. Second, as Sydney Airport invests in its future it would bring with it growth in tourism and business travel which would lead to job creation and contribute to NSW’s economic prosperity,” Ms Mather added.
She explained that the planned changes would reduce aircraft turnaround times, largely eliminate towed main runway crossings and reduce aircraft emissions.
“A major priority for Sydney Airport is working with the State Government to improve traffic flow around the airport and to deliver comparable travel times from the central business district to each precinct. We also continue to invest in ground transport facilities and advocate improved public transport services,” said Ms Mather.
Many European and North American airports have similar structures based around airline groupings. Planners looked at airports overseas for inspiration. These included Copenhagen Airport, in which Sydney Airport’s owner MAp formerly held a stake, before it conducted an asset swap involving Copenhagen and Brussels airports with a Canadian pension fund in order to focus on Sydney Airport.
An airport spokesperson explained: “We have drawn upon our experience at European airports where we have worked to bring alliances closer together and improve transfers and connection times at airports such as Copenhagen and Brussels. We have also looked at airports around the world where alliances operate from under one roof, such as London’s Heathrow.
“The concept plan clearly involves substantial investment in airport infrastructure by Sydney Airport to meet airline requirements. However, the plan only just announced is subject to extensive consultation and detailed design.” Broader external stakeholder consultation, currently at an early stage, will take place throughout 2012 between the airport and all airline partners, airport-related businesses, border agencies, regulatory authorities, the community and government at all levels. The spokesperson continued: “We are in the very early stages of consultation but the response across the board so far has been extremely positive.” The move is consistent with permissible land use set out in the airport’s 2009 Master Plan and will be evaluated as part of the 2014 Master Plan process due to start in late 2013.
The airport has signed a non-binding memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Qantas Group and Virgin Australia to explore the concept further. “The MoU between Sydney Airport and the Qantas Group includes a commitment to explore the benefits and financial implications of an early reversion of long-term leases. The Qantas Group currently has long-term leases on airport land, which includes T3, the Qantas Jet Base and the Qantas Freight Base,” said Ms Mather.
The initial concept has been welcomed by Qantas and Virgin Australia. Qantas Chief Executive Officer Alan Joyce said: “The proposed new terminal precinct would have significant benefits for all passengers travelling with Qantas and Jetstar. As passenger numbers grow over the next decade, it is vital that airlines and airports work closely together to deliver a seamless travel experience.” Virgin Australia’s Chief Executive Officer John Borghetti said the integrated concept is in line with the carrier’s focus on delivering an enhanced customer experience and integrated global alliance network. He said: “We support any proposal that improves services to the travelling public and grows tourism in Australia. We believe there is potential in Sydney Airport’s proposal.”
Others are reserving judgment until more details are released. Regional Express (Rex), which is Australia’s largest regional carrier, operating a fleet of 40-plus Saab 340 turboprops, welcomed the consultative and inclusive approach of the airport. However, Executive Chairman Lim Kim Hai, said: “From our past experience in dealing with Sydney Airport, it had always been the regional carriers and communities that have been short-changed in any of their major initiatives.
“On the face of it, the main casualty will be the regional travellers seeking to connect on to domestic services and vice versa. Currently, there is a seamless connection to all the domestic carriers. Under the proposed plan, some of the connections will entail transiting to another terminal which will add on considerable time and inconvenience especially for the transfer of luggage. Obviously this will have an impact on the competitive positions of the local carriers.”
Meanwhile, the Joint Study on Aviation Capacity for the Sydney Region – originally due to be completed in mid-2011 – is expected to be released around March this year.
The study is looking at the need for Sydney to have a second airport, potential sites, economic implications and surface transport issues. Minister for Transport and Infrastructure, Anthony Albanese, has said that Sydney needs a second airport “sooner rather than later” due to existing capacity constraints.
“I can understand Sydney Airport wanting to maintain its monopoly position, but the truth is, a global city such as Sydney needs a second airport,” he said last year before Sydney Airport released its integration proposal.
Sydney Airport’s integration concept is designed to ensure it maintains its position, whatever the outcome of the Joint Study.
Emma Kelly reports on Sydney Airport’s plans for development.