Ready for Takeoff

Perth Airport

With this symbolic impact in mind, Perth Airport Pty Ltd is in the midst of completing a $750 million redevelopment of the city’s airport. The endeavour is currently on budget and on time despite numerous challenges. Fiona Lander, Executive General Manager Corporate Affairs for the airport, shared her thoughts and insights about the project, the city of Perth and the future of this great facility.

Initially government owned, Perth Airport was privatised in 1997 and was purchased by Perth Airport Pty Ltd under a 99-year lease from the Commonwealth. It encompasses 2,105 hectares of which 1,100 hectares are for aeronautical development, more than 300 hectares are set aside for permanent conservation and 700 hectares are for other uses. Recently a new terminal was constructed, the first to be built in 26 years. Once a small airport, with the significant population growth and an increase in Fly-In Fly-Out (FIFO) traffic associated with the resource sector’s workforce deployment model, it is now Australia’s fourth largest airport. Approximately 14 million passengers pass through the terminals every year, which has doubled over the last seven years.

Terminal 2 is the newest addition that has been built with the resource sector specifically in mind. It services regional/intrastate flights and has been designed as a single level terminal with extensive walkways out onto the airfield – covered to protect passengers from the elements. “This allows us to have a greater number of parking bays, and the design maximises the turnaround and efficiency of aircraft because they have quite a short turnaround period, particularly for the resource sector flights,” Ms Lander notes. The new terminal was opened on 2nd March, and the team estimates that 1.3 million passengers will be processed through it each year.

The customer experience in Terminal 2 was based on the demographics of its passengers, with the retail and refreshment strategy specifically designed around the needs of FIFO passengers. The clientele connected to the mining sector tends to be a male dominated population, and as Ms Lander explains, “they don’t have a lot of time. They arrive, buy a quick coffee or drink, a newspaper and board the aircraft.”

The company has also sought to improve service for tourists. As Ms Lander states, “We have also expanded our volunteer program called the Gold Coats into Terminal 2. This is mainly to assist those passengers who are not frequent travellers and who are travelling for leisure. The volunteers are always there to provide assistance and guidance to visitors.” The new terminal also has a drop-off-and-pick-up loop at the front of the building with a 30 metre standoff at the front for security purposes. The new terminal has also made way for a more recreational experience; for example, “we have a really lovely expansive forecourt which will be maximised for the summer months, incorporating entertainment. This way, we will make Perth Airport a destination for travellers and visitors, wanting to come to the airport to enjoy a coffee or meal.

“We have experienced a period of significant growth,” Ms Lander explains. The Domestic Pier is the largest of the construction projects in terms of scale, and is also the most complex, being built on an operational airfield. “The construction is not a constraint but it causes you to rethink how we use existing infrastructure, and certainly puts a focus on it,” Ms Lander says. “It’s like directing traffic in rush hour when one of your lanes is out.” With this project come enormous complexities and risks that need to be managed. “We have had to reconsider our bay allocation so that we maximise the use of the gates and bays that we have whilst we had to take one out of service to enable the construction of the Pier.”

Because of the large number of aircraft servicing the regional resource sector, Perth Airport has up to 166 aircraft parked overnight. That is more than you would find at either the Melbourne or Sydney airports, and yet both eastern cities have much higher passenger numbers. Given the need for so many planes to service the mining industry, new aircraft parking bays have had to be added to the airport’s infrastructure every month for the past six years. The demand for parking bays has been so overwhelming that the airfield investment program has been continual. A lot of money has been injected into ensuring the airfield can work to its maximum capacity.

The airfield isn’t the only infrastructure that is getting an upgrade. ‘Gateway WA’ is a billion dollar state and federally funded project to re-orient and re-align many of the roads leading to the airport and grade separate them so that congestion is less of an issue. “Ultimately we are consolidating all of our commercial air services over to the (current) international precinct, so everything will move across to where Terminals 1 and 2 are,” explains Ms Lander. “What Gateway WA does is provide an entry point into the airport that will cope with the amount of passengers and visitors that we are projecting well into the future.”

Gateway WA was funded through the ’Infrastructure Australia’ fund for upgrades in areas of critical need. While it serves the purpose of taking the travelling public to the entry point of the airport, Perth Airport itself is responsible for the development of roads on its own property, where the company has had to invest a great deal. The Tonkin Highway, for instance, has had to undergo major alterations to accommodate its growth. Perth Airport recognised the opportunity to put an entry point onto the road a couple of kilometres up from the main congestion point at a cost of $10 million. The entry point opened less than a year ago and has helped to alleviate some of the peak metropolitan congestion.

Perth has gone through a significant period of growth, and consequentially, the roads are busier than ever before. “I think there is a cultural change to be had by the people of Perth,” explains Ms Lander, “because we are just not used to that congestion. You can see it on the roads, at the airport, on the trains. The infrastructure is catching up, but the challenge is, things like airports take a long time to construct.” Perth Airport is administered under the Airports Act and is thus required to take part in long-range master planning, which necessitates articulating a twenty-year vision for land use planning. “When we want to construct a new facility, there is a statutory planning process that we have to adhere to,” Ms Lander explains. “The environmental approvals and community consultation all take time, and then there is the construction timeline, so it is not an overnight fix.”

Throughout the construction, there are numerous contractors on site every day, including designers, quantity surveyors, engineers, and construction crews. Ms Lander proudly states, “The first stage of the international arrivals expansion will open at the end of this year, and will be completed in mid-2014. Construction of the Domestic Pier is due to be completed in mid-2014. We are investing more money in the existing Terminal 3 and continuing works on the airfield. Because of the numerous elements and complexities of the projects, we closely monitor our milestones and project deliverables and respond accordingly.”

Perth Airport has invested a lot of resources in business planning along with its land use planning, which forces the team to do things in a very structured and disciplined way. As a consequence, “We have a very good idea of the end goal in terms of the ultimate consolidation of the airport and what that looks like.”

The most complex aspect of all this work is the number of interrelated construction projects occurring simultaneously on an operational airport site. Coordination is absolutely critical since, “when you have an impact in one part of a terminal building, and external construction on the other end, as well as works to realign the forecourt and roads, you really are affecting almost every customer touch point. So coordination and management are essential because at the end of the day, we still need to make sure that this airport is running as an airport, and that we are providing passengers with a service.”

Environmental sustainability has also been a major driver behind the overhaul at Perth Airport. Ms Lander explains, “We built a co-generation power plant to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 55 per cent. We also use underground ducting and ventilation and rainwater harvesting for re-use in the toilets and gardens. Co-generation is a first for an airport in Australia.”

Perth Airport is a reflection of the burgeoning city it represents. As Perth grows, so does the airport. The facility’s impeccable management is evidenced by the number of infrastructure projects that are being undertaken. The company still faces many challenges, but is meeting each one with confidence and skill, and the city of Perth is better for it, as the airport is doing its part to put this growing city on the map and proving it to be a world-class destination.

Home Automation

Call it ‘domotics,’ and you are likely to receive a blank stare, but refer to it as ‘smart home’ or ‘home automation,’ and you will get a nod of acknowledgement. For the past few years, consumers have heard the word ‘smart’ attached to countless products and services, from food and drink to snacks like popcorn and mobile phones, which no one seems to refer to as a ‘cellphone’ anymore. Yet what, exactly, constitutes ‘smart’?

May 26, 2020, 7:47 AM AEST