Since its birth a century ago, air travel has revolutionised the way we live our lives and do business.
It has helped to create a world that’s more interconnected than ever before. It has brought us closer to family and friends. It has broadened our horizons and given us the opportunity to explore our nation and the world beyond. And it has facilitated trade and commerce on an unprecedented scale.
Today, aviation is a $3 trillion a year global industry employing 29 million people.
And at its heart are airports.
But this infrastructure is more than just places where you catch planes, hold in-transit meetings with business associates, or do a bit of duty-free shopping.
Indeed, to fully appreciate the potential of airports you need to look beyond their runways and terminals.
Increasingly, they are being acknowledged as powerful drivers of regional economic development.
Just as in the past economic and employment activities sprang up around sea ports, railway hubs and highways, they are now springing up around airports, drawn by the fast, efficient connections they offer to markets domestically and internationally.
As world-renowned academic from the University of North Carolina, John Kasarda, has written: “Airports continue to transform from primarily air transport infrastructure to multimodal, multifunctional enterprises generating considerable commercial development within and well beyond their boundaries.”
Kasarda has described this worldwide phenomenon as the rise of what he has termed the “aerotropolis”.
Airports are sought-after neighbours by a growing number of organisations and industries. They include manufacturers, aerospace companies, health and education providers, logistics and transport firms, retailers, as well as the operators of hotels, conference facilities, exhibition centres and entertainment complexes.
They also include corporations engaged in international commerce that simply want to base their globetrotting executives and professionals within a short commute of the flights they regularly need to catch in order to meet clients, suppliers and business partners.
For example, the trailblazing Amsterdam Aertropolis is home to more than 1000 firms, including the global headquarters of ABN Amro, and financial giant ING.
Meanwhile, 2000 companies and four Fortune 500 HQs are located in the Las Colinas precinct near the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport in Texas.
Furthermore, consider this: right now there are 450,000 jobs within an 8km radius of O’Hare International Airport, which is located some distance from Chicago’s CBD. And research by Kasarda and his colleague Stephen Appold found that those jobs are relatively well paid.
In short, airports are proven investment and job magnets.
Our ambition for the Western Sydney Airport must be nothing less than this.
Given Sydney’s Kingsford Smith Airport — the country’s busiest, most important hub — is near capacity, building Badgerys Creek is in the national interest. But it also has the potential to transform western Sydney’s economy and address its biggest challenge: a lack of local jobs.
At present there are only 0.75 jobs for every local worker. As a result, hundreds of thousands of western Sydney residents must travel daily to other parts of the city for work, with many having to commute for up to two hours each way on increasingly congested roads.
But the airport’s potential to attract new high-value industries and tens of thousands of new jobs to western Sydney will only be realised if we get the planning right.
A successful aerotropolis doesn’t just happen. And that planning must be accompanied with a guarantee that the airport will be connected to Sydney’s passenger rail network from the day it opens.
Again, modern, reliable public transport is critical to the development of the aerotropolis model.
What’s more, laying the rail line at the same time the airport is being built would maximise opportunities to access value capture to help pay for the construction of both.
Further, this construction activity is an opportunity to skill new apprentices recruited from the western Sydney community.
Lastly, if you want a glimpse of what the future of western Sydney could look like if the planning is right, you need look no further than what is springing up just north of the airport site.
Sydney Science Park is an ambitious $5bn project that promises to turn 280 hectares of paddocks into an epicentre of research, innovation and education. All up, it will bring more than 12,000 “knowledge” jobs to the region.
It will also have the highest number of green-star-rated buildings in the country, host Australia’s first kindergarten to year 12 science, technology, engineering and mathematics school, and house more than 10,000 residents.
In the words of the park’s western Sydney-based proponent Celestino: “This is not a science park as much as it is a new science city.”
In 1949, then prime minister Ben Chifley observed that: “Civil aviation has revolutionised life in the outback. Every community is within a day’s flying of a capital city and medical help is never more than a few hours away. Distant places are no more.”
More than 60 years later, aviation is not only connecting Australians to each other and with the rest of the world, it is also revolutionising the development of our cities and regions.
If we get it right, the Western Sydney Airport will be much more than a runway and a terminal.
It will be a fully fledged aerotropolis, and western Sydney will be at the forefront of the industries and jobs of the future.
This piece was first published in The Australian on Friday, 23 June, 2017: http://bit.ly/2sVQLab