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Australian Airports Association’s policy manager, Simon Bourke, considers the national importance of aviation and some of the opportunities and challenges faced by the country’s gateways.

Australia’s network of airports spread across major urban centres and regions form an integral part of the national economic infrastructure and are critical to connecting communities and enhancing broader economic performance. 

Perhaps more than almost any other country, Australia relies on an efficient and reliable aviation sector and airport network for its citizens to remain physically ‘in touch’ with each other and the rest of the world.

Indeed, it is now conceivable that Australians can fly from any population centre to any other country in around 24 hours or less.

Australia’s airport sector has also undergone substantial structural change over recent decades. Privatisation and corporatisation, especially involving larger airport facilities, has helped drive new infrastructure developments, better operational efficiencies and a greater commercial focus. 

In 2011, it was found that Australia’s airports generated a total economic contribution of A$17.3 billion, equivalent to around 1.2% of GDP. National employment at airports was estimated at approximately 115,200 full-time equivalent (FTE) workers. 

These significant contributions highlight the importance of the role Australia’s airports play in driving forward our national economy.

Voice of Australian airports

The Australian Airports Association (AAA) is the national industry voice for airports in Australia. It represents the interests of more than 260 airports and aerodromes Australia wide – from local country community landing strips to major international gateway airports. 

Our members include Adelaide, Brisbane, Cairns, Canberra, Darwin, Gold Coast, Hobart, Perth, Melbourne and Sydney airports. There are a further 135 corporate members who provide goods and services to airports.

The Charter of the AAA is to facilitate co-operation among all member airports and their many and varied partners in Australian aviation, whilst maintaining an air transport system that is safe, secure, environmentally responsible and efficient for the benefit of all Australians.

In representing such a diverse range of airport operators, AAA is acutely aware of both the opportunities and challenges that are facing Australian airports in this dynamic, constantly evolving and growth driven industry. 

Opportunity knocks

In terms of opportunities, Australia’s airports are utilising the continued growth in aviation by striving for continual improvement in the infrastructure and facilities that they provide both airlines and passengers.

While airports do invest heavily in aeronautical infrastructure, there is an increasing need for airports to diversify their business models to counteract the volatility that can occur in the aviation market. 

Australia’s airports are therefore constantly exploring opportunities to develop non-aeronautical facilities and services that not only add value to passengers using the airport but also provide benefits to the local community.

Changing times

If we cast our minds back 20 years to 1996, the airport industry was very different to the one that operates today. In 1996, Australia’s major airports were still owned and operated by the Federal Government and, at this time, there were over 66 million passengers moving through the nation’s gateways. 

Over the course of 1997-2003 all of the major airports were sold off under lease agreements to the private sector and, to this day, remain privately funded and operated. 

The airport privatisation process followed, and over the next 20 years Australia’s aviation industry has grown steadily to the point that in 2014-15 we had more than 147 million passengers moving through our airports. 

This is well in excess of double the amount of passengers that airports had to cater for pre-privatisation. 

Invest and build

As a result there has been significant investment in recent years to ensure that our airport infrastructure and facilities can compete on the world stage and meet the evolving requirements of both airlines and passengers.

In 2013-14, Australia’s international gateway airports (Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth) collectively invested over A$893 million in aeronautical infrastructure alone. They are not alone, of course, as most major and regional airports are making significant investments. 

These efforts are expected to lead to a nationwide commitment to invest somewhere in the order of A$9 billion on Australia’s airports over the next decade. 

Aeronautical investments

All of this aeronautical investment is focused squarely on creating additional capacity to meet projected demand, as well as ensuring that both airlines and passengers have the facilities and services to make the travel experience to and from the airport as seamless as possible. 

These improvements cover a wide range of areas, from the development of new parallel runways and upgraded terminal facilities, through to improved airport road and transport networks and higher capacity, and more efficient baggage handling systems. 

The AAA has also been working closely with its members and government departments to ensure that the border processing experience for international travellers is as quick, efficient and effective as possible. 

While there is still much work to be done, there have been significant investments in smart gate technology to drive improved facilitation rates, as well as trials and research into innovative ways to improve the security screening process. 


Non-aero investments

Beyond the aeronautical investment, Australia’s airports are continually developing business diversification strategies to mitigate the pitfalls of the sometimes-unpredictable aviation market. 

While investment in non-aeronautical developments does potentially provide the airport with an additional revenue stream, these developments also provide travellers with additional options for accommodation, food and beverage, retail outlets and other services. 

The local communities surrounding an airport also benefit from these developments through the utilisation of additional business parks, diversified retail outlets, job creation, as well as providing a significant boost to the local economy.

Some big challenges

While Australia’s airports are striving to seize the opportunities that have arisen from strong aviation growth over the years, there are a number of significant challenges that AAA and its members are working hard to address. 

The most topical of these challenges are centred on funding for regional airports, regulations and standards, an evolving security environment, and developing more options for education and training.

While Australia’s major airports have been privatised, the overwhelming majority of our regional airports are owned and operated by the local government authority for the community they serve. As result, these regional airports must compete for funding with other local government municipal services, and in the context of local government budgets, the costs associated with maintaining and improving airports is considerable. 

Regional recognition

In light of the challenges faced by regional airports, AAA has commissioned a study to demonstrate the critical importance of regional aviation to Australia’s economy.

It also aims to identify the funding shortfall that exists for regional aerodromes to maintain on-going operations and demonstrate the economic impact this will have on a local region. 

We also plan to use the report and its findings as evidence to justify the creation/expansion of specific Commonwealth and state government funding programmes for regional aerodromes to undertake essential aeronautical infrastructure maintenance and upgrades. The report is expected to befinalised and publically released in the first half of this year.

Rules and regulations

Government legislation, regulations and standards impact on almost every facet of an Australian airport’s operations, security and safety measures. 

This simple truth means that the AAA and its members are committed to developing close, collaborative working relationships with government officials to ensure that the policies governing the airport industry are not restrictive, burdensome or impractical to implement. 

This work has included taking a leading role in the Civil Aviation Safety Authority’s review of the CASR and MOS Part 139 for aerodromes, which is the cornerstone safety standard framework for Australian airports. 

Additionally, AAA and its members have been giving attention to the regulations that cover planning around airports. 

Indeed, the number of instances of high-rise developments impacting on an airport’s airspace is increasing as Australia’s cities continue to grow. 

And, like in many other parts of the world, residential developments continue to encroach on airports, which can give rise to noise issues.

In recognition of this, the Australian Government developed a National Airport Safeguarding Framework that aims to ensure appropriate land use planning decisions are made that recognise aviation safety requirements and minimise noise sensitive developments near airports. 

We are strongly encouraging each state and territory government to adopt this framework and its guidelines within their respective planning schemes in order to adequately safeguard the operations of Australia’s airports. 

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The global aviation security environment has experienced some significant changes over the past 15 years and, unfortunately, it appears that the threat of terrorist related activity is not set to diminish any time soon. 

The challenge for Australia’s airports, and indeed airports globally, is ensuring that we are able to quickly adapt and respond appropriately to any changes in threats to the aviation security environment. 

Achieving this requires airports to closely collaborate with intelligence agencies and government regulators to ensure that security policy settings are appropriate for the operating environment. 

The AAA and its members are very supportive of government taking an intelligence driven, risk-based, and proportionate approach to the implementation of aviation security measures.

Training and education

Prior to the airport privatisation process in Australia, the Commonwealth Government facilitated much of the education and training for airport operators. However, these educational opportunities were discontinued after privatisation and consequently left a significant gap in the training and development options available to the industry. 

We have made a commitment to assist in delivering educational opportunities for airport operators, particularly those in regional and remote locations where undertaking training can be cost prohibitive. 

Over the course of 2016-17, AAA is planning to launch an online education offering for industry, with initial course offerings on airside safety and wildlife hazard management. In fact, we are looking forward to addressing the educational and training challenges facing the industry, both through the development of online courses and through our continued involvement in bringing ACI’s AMPAP courses to Australia. 

Continued professional development opportunities are essential for Australia’s airports and we are proud to play a role in assisting the industry.

The future’s bright

Overall, the outlook for Australia’s airport industry is a very positive one as with unprecedented infrastructure investment, exciting technological innovations and continued growth, there is much to look forward to. 

While we still face challenges in the years ahead, the dynamic nature of the industry offers constant opportunities to innovate and adapt to changing conditions. 

AAA is excited for what the future holds for the aviation sector and we are confident that airports will continue to deliver significant economic and social contributions for the benefit of all Australians, as well as our international visitors.


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