Mon, 13 Dec 2021 - 10:00
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Western Sydney Airport and the community

Introduction

It is great to speak at the Western Sydney Leadership Dialogue Summit—aptly titled “Boomtown!” Western Sydney is indeed booming, and today I want to talk about what the Morrison Government is doing to sustain that boom for decades to come.

Our Government has an ambitious 10-year, $110 billion infrastructure program. One of the biggest elements of our plan is our policy agenda for Western Sydney; and at the heart of that, in turn, is the Western Sydney International Nancy-Bird Walton Airport.

The airport and neighbouring aerotropolis are the centrepiece of the Western Parkland City, which is the focus of a huge and multifaceted effort across Commonwealth, state and local government, including land use planning; new transport infrastructure; attracting businesses and jobs to the area; and much else besides. This effort across all levels of government is coordinated through the Western Sydney City Deal.

Today I’d like to provide you with an update on progress at the airport. Then I’ll speak about the national economic boost the project will deliver. And finally I’ll discuss the airport as part of the community in which it will operate.

Delivering a great airport

Let me turn first to the airport itself. 

This $5.3 billion project is already more than one quarter complete.

The bulk earthworks—on a site around three times the size of the Sydney CBD—is now three quarters complete.  Nearly 22 million cubic metres of earth has been moved.

The contract for construction of the terminal has been awarded to Multiplex, and recently I joined the Prime Minister and the NSW Premier at the site for commencement of construction on the terminal.

This will be a very important public building for Western Sydney – and it has been designed to reflect the confidence and aspirations of Western Sydney. It will offer a passenger experience unmatched in any other Australian airport. For example, the terminal will have Australia’s first fully digitally automated baggage handling system, with passengers able to track their bags via an app to know exactly when it will arrive at the pick up destination.

The contract for the airside pavements package, which will include the 3.7-kilometre runway and rapid-exit taxiways was awarded recently to a CPB Contractors and ACCIONA joint venture, with construction to commence next year.

By the end of this year, the final major construction contract, for landside civil and building works, will be awarded, along with the enterprise technology package.

The airport is on track to open by late 2026, and by 2032 it is expected to be serving around ten million passengers a year. 

Building the physical facility is only part of the job.  At the same time the airport’s management team is working hard to attract potential users.  Airlines are showing strong interest – the major domestic airlines but also some thirty foreign operators. 

There is also strong interest from the freight industry in Western Sydney International’s air cargo precinct. Here too the proposition includes modern, efficient operating practices.  But the freight industry is also attracted by the airport’s location, close to the fastest growing areas of Sydney and to myriad logistics hubs including Moorebank Intermodal; and the airport’s excellent connectivity with billions of dollars being spent by the Commonwealth and NSW Governments on upgraded road infrastructure.

The centrepiece of this road infrastructure will be the new $2 billion M12 motorway that will connect the M7 via Elizabeth drive to the airport from the east, and connect the Northern Road to the airport from the west. The M12 is being delivered under the Western Sydney Infrastructure Plan—a $4.4 billion, 10-year program of works delivering new and upgraded roads in Western Sydney, jointly funded by the Morrison and Perrottet governments. Just last month we announced the completion, a year ahead of schedule, of another centrepiece of the Plan: the $1.6 billion Northern Road Project, providing a continuous 36-kilometre dual carriageway from Narellan to Penrith.

A major economic boost

Let me turn now to the economic boost the airport will trigger, in Western Sydney and beyond. I have mentioned the effort being invested in marketing Western Sydney Airport to airlines. If the airport attracts airlines and passengers, it will in turn generate jobs—an estimated 28,000 by 2031; it will attract businesses to locate nearby; and it will catalyse regional and national economic activity.

One way it will achieve this is by stimulating new levels of competition in domestic and international aviation – in turn bringing benefits to passengers and to the freight market and flow on benefits across our economy.  If you want to operate a domestic airline but you do not have strong access to the Sydney market, you are starting from a very weak position.  Western Sydney Airport will change that.

Another economic lever will be through the impact on Australia’s export industries. The cargo precinct at the airport will provide capacity for operators to meet the growing demand for freight in the Sydney basin. This, combined with access to 24/7 operations, will help our high quality Australian exports to access global markets—from medical equipment to live seafood producers.  We expect more than 220,000 tonnes of air cargo to move through the airport each year.

This new airport will also stimulate inbound tourism, particularly by offering an attractive new option to international discount airlines.  Today airlines flying into Kingsford Smith can face the prospect of leaving an aircraft on the ground for much of the day due to the curfew; this means poor asset utilisation of a hundred million dollar plus aircraft.  At Western Sydney International there will be no such barrier. 

I have spoken about various ways in which Western Sydney International Airport will boost economic activity and enhance productivity and efficiency. Central to this is unleashing the power of competition. We are applying lessons from industries like telecommunications, where since 1990 there has been intense competition, innovation and investment, from multiple players, most privately owned.

A good example is the 75,000 square metre cargo precinct at the airport: this will feature open access cargo terminals rather than being locked up by any one operator.  This makes more sense commercially for the airport; it also boosts competition and hence productivity in the air freight market. 

A major community boost

Finally let me turn to the contribution of the airport to improved liveability for the people of Western Sydney.

The airport is a catalyst for transformational investments in public transport. Sydney Metro Western Sydney Airport will be the rail spine for the Western Parkland City: a 23 kilometre metro rail line to run from St Marys south to the Aerotropolis through four intermediate stations including two at the airport, funded jointly by the Commonwealth and NSW governments at a cost of nearly $11 billion. 

Each of these stations can be surrounded by carefully planned centres featuring public spaces, job-generating investment and education opportunities, medium and high density housing, shops, cafes and restaurants and other facilities.  This rail link is a rare example of doing what all the experts advise – get the transport links in place in time for the new jobs and housing, rather than leaving transport to be an afterthought.

Now, of course, the airport itself will make a major contribution to the liveability of Western Sydney by making flying much easier for the people of Western Sydney. If it were a standalone city, it would be the fourth biggest city and third largest urban economy in Australia. An airport servicing this fast-growing region is long overdue. It is absurd that a family from Blacktown going on a trip to the Gold Coast or Hobart has to spend longer driving to an airport than flying to their destination.

Of course, it is also key the liveability of Western Sydney that the airport is a good neighbour. So I turn finally to airspace and flight path design, which are naturally a focus of interest to surrounding communities.

The Airspace and Flight Path Design is on-track to be completed prior to the commencement of airport operations in 2026.

Flight path design is a technically complex and intricate process that takes considerable time. There are multiple factors to consider.

The first and overriding factor is safety. This cannot be compromised in any way.  But then there are such factors as minimising the kilometres travelled and fuel burned by aircraft; minimising the impact on communities around the airport, including from aircraft noise; minimising other environmental impacts, for example on the Blue Mountains World Heritage Area; and of course ensuring that the flight paths for Western Sydney Airport do not interfere with other airspace requirements in the Sydney basin.

The Sydney basin is already a highly congested airspace. It includes Australia’s busiest airport, Kingsford Smith Airport, two general aviation airports and a range of defence facilities including the Richmond Air Force base. In designing the flight paths and airspace for Western Sydney International Airport, we have to work very carefully to take account of all the existing uses of airspace.

A critical element of the airspace and flight path design is extensive community consultation. This began with the draft Environmental Impact Statement issued in 2015, a set of documents totalling more than 4000 pages, which included a set of indicative flight paths.

Almost 5,000 comments were received; these were reflected in the final Environmental Impact Statement and also in the Airport Plan issued in 2016. The Airport Plan sets out several critical requirements imposed by the Government that have to be met as we move through the design process.

These requirements include:

  • avoiding overflight of residential areas and noise sensitive facilities to the maximum extent possible;
  • prohibiting a single aircraft arrival merge point over any one residential area, to reduce noise concentration occurring over only one area;
  • considering the impacts of air operations on natural and visually sensitive areas (including the Blue Mountains World Heritage Area); and
  • developing appropriate noise abatement procedures to ensure that affected residents are impacted as little as possible.

One example of possible noise abatement measures is the use of continuous descent operations for aircraft arrivals. This means aircraft can effectively fly from the top of their descent to the runway without levelling off, which means less noise is produced. In all of the detailed airspace and flight path planning work presently occurring, my Department—working with Airservices Australia, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority and other stakeholders—is taking careful account of the community feedback received through the EIS process that is enshrined in the Airport Plan.

Critically, there will be another detailed, formal community consultation process as part of the environmental assessment process for the preliminary airspace design.

Once the preliminary designs have been developed, they will be referred to the Minister for the Environment for advice on the method and guidelines for conducting the environmental assessment under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. This triggers the commencement of the environmental assessment process.

The environmental assessment process includes, amongst a range of matters, developing detailed noise modelling so that we can assess community impacts. Again, it requires the preparation of thousands of pages of documents as submissions in the environmental assessment process.

We expect that this documentation will be ready to be shared with the community, along with the preliminary airspace and flight path design, by mid-2023. It will be an opportunity for the community to provide its comment and feedback on the flight paths—before we undertake the next phase of detailed design to finalise the airspace and flight path designs for consideration by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority.

The planning work includes developing noise modelling so that we can assess community impacts. A key input for this modelling are assumptions as to the aircraft types expected to fly to and from the airport on the flight paths and how often. While louder aircraft will be included in noise modelling, they are progressively being phased out in favour of quieter and more efficient next generation aircraft.  As aircraft technology continues to improve and older aircraft are replaced with newer models over time, noise will be reduced.

In addition to direct community feedback, I have established the Forum on Western Sydney Airport, which includes representation from members of the local community, the aviation sector, local industry representatives, local Council officers, NSW Government officials and members of local, state and federal government from across the political spectrum. As well as the broader process of consulting with the public, there will be detailed engagement with FOWSA on the next stage of the flight path design.  The local community members of FOWSA have been proactive and vocal in putting forward concerns from their communities. This has concerned matters such as flight paths, but also the broader issue of how best to secure the maximum economic and social benefit from the new airport for the communities of Western Sydney,

Conclusion

I conclude by reiterating that Western Sydney International Airport is not just another infrastructure project. It forms the central part of a major piece of policy architecture, spanning economic policy—including competition policy—and regional development.

The airport is the core of a bold social and economic vision, across three levels of government, for the Western Parkland City. To turn the vision into reality, the airport needs to be a success: as a business; as an attractor of investment; and, just as important, as a community facility and good neighbour.

Given the enormous and multi-stranded effort under way, as I have explained today, I am confident that the vision will be realised.

This speech was delivered to the Western Sydney Leadership Dialogue Property & Infrastructure Summit on 9 December 2021