Going for gold.
Privatised in July 1997 at a cost of AUS$ 1.4 billion to a consortium led by Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, Brisbane Airport is proud of its claims to be Australia's largest airport. Located on a coastal headland between two rivers, airport land encompasses an area of 27,000 hectares, which is three times the size of its greatest competitor in Sydney.
But as the old adage goes, size isn't important, it's what you do with it that counts. To this end, the airport operator, Brisbane Airport Corporation Limited (BACL), is working on two parallel projects aimed at growing the airport over the next 20 years and developing the Brisbane area into Australia's premier business and leisure district.
In Managing Director, Koen Rooijmans' own words: "We are turning Brisbane's city airport into an airport city".
Although financial results for the first two years since privatisation have reported an operating loss of $19.1 million and $19.9 million respectively, Rooijmans is pleased with improved earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA), as well as a rise in total passenger numbers.
In 1999, EBITDA rose 11.4% on the previous year to $89.7 million, while international passenger numbers grew 3.3% to 2.53 million and domestic numbers remained constant at 7.67 million. Aircraft landings also grew 3% to 79,380, as a result of increased frequencies on five international routes.
And as BACL looks to absorb the impact of a 4.5% reduction in regulated aeronautical charges each year for another three years, retail revenue jumped an impressive 18% to $52.7 million.
"I am truly astonished that we have come so far in such a short time," says Rooijmans. "In the two years since we acquired Brisbane Airport and began to apply our vision and commercial skills, stakeholders have seen the future rapidly take shape.
"That future is based on solid ground, carefully yet creatively managed resources, a willingness to lead, an innate desire for partnership and fiscal prudence," he adds.
Central to Brisbane's future is a masterplan document which will manage a framework of developments to meet demand up to 2018.
The number of passengers using Brisbane Airport has tripled over the last 20 years and strong growth is expected to continue up to 2018, when annual passenger forecasts will soar to 33 million.
To serve this growth a new 3,050-metre western parallel runway will be constructed, with linking taxiways, aprons and internal roadways. Currently all international and domestic traffic use the 3,560m main runway (01R/19L), while the 1,760-metre cross runway (14/32) is used for smaller aircraft up to the Boeing 737.
And forecasts suggest that the new landing strip will be needed within the next 10 years -- present capacity on the main runway is 64 movements per hour, yet by 2018 movements will have risen to almost 100 per hour.
Location of the runway will actually be 1.3 kms further north than proposals drawn up in a draft masterplan in 1998. The change, which will sacrifice one taxiway system and will require new arrangements for aircraft ground control, was made to lessen the environmental impact of the runway.
By staggering the runway, the nearest residential home will be 6.3km from the end of the runway and noise contours will be moved further away from the city, out over the waters of Moreton Bay.
The system also allows for Brisbane to operate as a terminus airport, with aircraft arriving over Moreton Bay and simultaneously departing in the opposite direction.
Terminal development will be focused in the proposed Central Terminal Area in which the existing domestic terminal is located and will include the construction of a $40 million, 210-room hotel and conference complex (see airport hotel box story). This could signal the end of the road for the impressive international terminal at Brisbane which was built separate and some distance from the domestic facility.
In addition to existing road access, the central terminal area will also be served by a dedicated rail link (Airtrain) which will link the airport with Brisbane's central business district and Gold Coast tourist destinations (see Getting on track box story).
Rooijmans expects the complete masterplan to cost more than $1 billion, although developments will be implemented in phases. Phase One -- which will include the provision of additional taxiways to the existing runway, expansion of the terminals, construction of additional aircraft stands and completion of the Airtrain rail link -- covers the period up to 2003.
"The masterplan has an outlook of 20 years which is a long time -- 20 years ago we didn't use mobile phones, faxes or e-mail. Time goes very fast, but when you talk about airport infrastructure you have to look far ahead because decision-making processes take a long time," admits Rooijmans.
"You have to take a long term view to make it happen. Our capacity needs to be, perhaps, triple what we have now to increase our volume of passengers. The timeframe is a reasonable outlook but we cannot afford to make a mistake."
"We know what it is like to make a mistake -- in the past Brisbane Airport decided to split the domestic terminal with the international terminal. Although from the location point of view this is the most ideal airport in the world, this was definitely a mistake," he admits.
"I cannot change that overnight, so we have to have vision and change in the future. What we plan is to combine international and domestic operations in future to ensure short connections and relate the domestic networks to those of the airline alliances."
Yet the masterplan proposals are not the only major project occupying Rooijmans' thoughts. The 54-year-old Dutchman is also the chief protagonist of a regional dream called Australia TradeCoast. The venture is a public/private partnership formed to market the Brisbane air and sea ports area to international and interstate companies seeking a dedicated business location.
The project is also being branded as a geographic area in which related businesses can work. Around 3,000 hectares of developable land served by the airport, seaport and road infrastructure has been defined as the TradeCoast zone.
Potential clients are already being told they can take advantage of a high-level infrastructure across all transport modes, access to the Asia-Pacific marketplace, low utility and commodity prices, low state taxes, a well-educated and multilingual workforce, low living costs and an attractive lifestyle for relocating employees.
"TradeCoast is a concept as to how we should work to make Brisbane a place to do business. We are promoting, together with the city and the state, this area as a place to relocate businesses. We are ideally located with a seaport and airport as neighbours, as well as offering available land and a fantastic quality of life.
"TradeCoast is a next step to make our masterplan happen, but it is also a step beyond our own boundaries as an airport. It makes the airport a vital component of the region's wider development.
"We are not only interested in having an airport where you land and take-off, that's not our only business. We are here to combine business and travel in a way that is as smooth as possible," he enthuses.
RELATED ARTICLE: Getting on track
In February 1999, BACL announced a $200 million rail link from the airport to Brisbane's central business district and onto the Gold Coast.
Construction on the 17km route is underway, with the first trains operating from summer 2001. The service, which will take 22 minutes to reach the city centre, will operate four trains per hour, 16 hours per day, seven days a week. Two new stations will be built at the domestic and international terminals.
A staffed ticket sales point as well as automatic ticket machines will be provided -- a one way fare is expected to cost $7. Once operational, passenger forecasts claim that 2.3 million people will use the Airtrain in its first year, rising to 5.7 million in the tenth year and 16.5 million by 2035. Airport officials hope that the service will account for 12% of all trips to and from the airport.
"You can see how vital an airport train link is by looking at airports where the service doesn't work. I think a train link at Brisbane is vital because train transport provides a lot of certainty for passengers. Airtrain will be a dedicated service, with special trains outfitted for the needs of air passengers. It will add another option to get to the airport and help us promote seamless travel for our passengers," says BACL Managing Director, Koen Rooijmans.
RELATED ARTICLE: Airport hotel checks in
At the beginning of December 1999, BACL publicly unveiled its plans for a proposed hotel, conference and car park facility at the airport. On the drawing board is a $40 million, 210-room hotel adjacent to the domestic terminal and an $11 million multi-storey car park.
The hotel will be accessed from the airport's domestic terminal building and will be close to the planned Airtrain railway station. It will meet the needs of business travellers, offering meeting rooms, a conference facility, a restaurant and coffee shops.
It will also feature 1,500 square metres of commercial office space and Brisbane's largest serviced office and business centre to accommodate short to medium term tenants.
BACL General Manager Commercial Services, Diederik Pen, hopes the hotel will be completed in time for the Goodwill Games in August 2001.
"The hotel will provide an important incentive to national and international businesses keen to locate within the Australia TradeCoast area," says Pen.
Construction work on the hotel is scheduled to start in May 2000, with completion by August 2001 shortly after the first Airtrain service is due to run.
The proposed car park, to be located on the current site of the airports long-term car park, will feature 1,500 undercover car spaces and is expected to complete by October 2000.
However, there will be no ground breaking ceremony until the development plans have completed a 90-day public comment phase and have been subsequently approved by the Australian Federal Minister for Transport and Regional Services.