Western Sydney Airport project takes off

With an expected opening date of 2026, major earthworks kicked off at Western Sydney Airport in March 2020.

As major earthworks kick off at Western Sydney Airport, Roads and Infrastructure speaks to the airport’s interim CEO Jim Tragotsalos about key considerations for construction and the future economic success of the region.

In 2012, a joint study on aviation capacity in the Sydney region was presented to the Federal and NSW Governments.

It found Kingsford Smith Airport in Sydney did not have enough capacity to meet growing demand for air travel in the Sydney region.

Following this report in 2014, the Federal Government announced Western Sydney Airport would be built.

Recently, Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack said Western Sydney Airport will deliver the vital infrastructure needed to unleash the economic powerhouse of the Western Sydney region.

Across 1800-hectares of land in Western Sydney sits the site for Western Sydney International (Nancy-Bird Walton) Airport. With an expected opening date of 2026, major earthworks kicked off on the project in early March 2020.

The scale of earthworks is equivalent to over 10,000 Olympic swimming pools of earth being moved over the site.

Before earthworks could begin, the Western Sydney Airport team were tasked with deciding on an airport layout.

Western Sydney International Airport is a greenfield project and is being built on a piece of land with no existing infrastructure.

Jim Tragotsalos, Western Sydney Airport interim Chief Executive Officer, says it is a unique and mammoth task to build a greenfield airport that will eventually become one of the biggest gateways to Australia and the Sydney region.

“The benefit of a greenfield airport means we can design the airport from scratch using the latest technology and implementing learnings from airport layouts around the world to create the best customer experience possible,” Mr. Tragotsalos says.

In 2018 Arup, a major engineering design company, was appointed to deliver the Airport Planning Services.

“As part of that process and following input from various stakeholders, we released an optimised Airport Site Layout in 2019, which streamlines airport operations and provides for safer aircraft manoeuvring, improving efficiency and providing greater flexibility for growth,” Mr. Tragotsalos says.

“We’re also working closely with our airline partners, Qantas and Virgin Australia, and freight partners as we design the airport, drawing on their experience and insights to ensure we design the best airport possible.”

As the major earthworks package has begun for the airport, CBP LendLease Joint Venture have started to prepare the foundations for the construction of the terminal, runway and all airport infrastructure.


The Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack asks for the first sod to be turned.

Planning to minimise the impacts of construction on residents and the environment, was a key consideration for the airport.

“We’re very fortunate that the 25 million cubic metres of earth we will need to move to make way for construction of the terminal and runway will largely remain on site,” Mr. Tragotsalos says.

“The site is very hilly, the difference between the highest and lowest points is equivalent to a 12-storey building, with the amount needed to fill the valleys roughly equal to what will be taken off the hills, meaning fewer trucks on local roads.”

The earthworks contractor is also required to achieve an Infrastructure Sustainability Council of Australia (ISCA) rating. ISCA ratings are holistic, and aim to reduce the impact of construction across many different categories such as project governance and management, climate change mitigation, resource use, noise, dust, water consumption, materials, stakeholder engagement, biodiversity and heritage.

“Dust suppression is a key focus for our construction team, with water carts on site using local sources of non-potable water, such as on-site dams to minimise dust,” Mr. Tragotsalos says.

“We are also using hydromulch, an emulsion of water, grass seed, straw mulch and soil binder, to assist with dust suppression.”

The early and bulk earthworks packages are required to meet holistic sustainability requirements within the ISCA ratings system. The terminal design package is also held to account for meeting specified requirements using the Green Star and National Australian Built Environment (NABERS) rating systems.

“Western Sydney Airport has developed a Climate Risk and Adaptation Assessment which sets out requirements that early earthworks, bulk earthworks and all future packages are required to comply with,” Mr. Tragotsalos says.

“This includes a requirement that contractors conduct a climate change risk and mitigation review at the commencement of each package of work.”

For the terminal design, sustainability will be one of the airport team’s main priorities. It was also a key criterion when assessing the terminal design competition.

“We’re currently engaging with other infrastructure projects, industry peak bodies, research institutions, suppliers and waste specialists to learn from their experience and understand opportunities for using recycled content,” Mr. Tragotsalos says.

While he says it is early days in the design of Western Sydney Airport, sustainability and waste reduction will be a key consideration when selecting materials.

“An important sustainability measure already underway is our partnership with Sydney Metro which involves Western Sydney Airport taking more than 500,000 tonnes of high-quality sandstone from Metro tunnelling sites for use at the airport,” Mr. Tragotsalos says.

“The crushed sandstone will be reused as a high-strength foundation to support the construction of the runway, taxiways and roads on the airport site, reducing waste, carbon emissions and saving taxpayer dollars.”

There is also a 117-hectare Environmental Conservation Zone on the airport site along Badgerys Creek, which the airport team will protect to preserve features of high environmental value.

The Federal Government has undertaken a range of measures to mitigate the airport’s impact on biodiversity, including investing around $200 million for a biodiversity offset package.


Western Sydney is a growing region, as a census showed the Greater Western Sydney Region had a usual resident population of 2.3 million in 2016. Mr. Tragotsalos says around 40 per cent of the workforce travels outside of Western Sydney for work each day.

He says the Gold Coast, with around 540,000 residents, and Adelaide, with around 1.3 million residents, have significantly smaller populations than Western Sydney and both cities are serviced by airports.

“When Western Sydney International opens in 2026, it will be the closest major airport for more than 2.5 million people,” he says.

“This once-in-a-generation project will be the catalyst for the transformation of Western Sydney, creating economic growth and opportunity for the region.”

Earthmoving machinery used to create the foundations for Western Sydney Airport.

He says the airport itself will create thousands of jobs, but it will also stimulate even more high-quality jobs in areas like education, engineering and advanced manufacturing in the Western Sydney region.

“It will also create opportunities for businesses of all sizes, opening Western Sydney up to the world.”

One significant factor in the process to build Western Sydney Airport is providing jobs for local workers. The Airport has a target for 30 per cent of airport construction jobs to go to Western Sydney locals.

“One of our key priorities in building Western Sydney Airport is to be the catalyst for the transformation of this region, creating thousands of jobs closer to where people live,” Mr. Tragotsalos says.

There are several employment targets that apply to the airport and its contractors including a 10 per cent diversity target with a 2.4 per cent target for Indigenous workers and a 20 per cent target for learning workers such as apprentices, graduates and trainees.

“From 2026 when the airport opens, Western Sydney Airport will have a target of 50 per cent local employment,” Mr. Tragotsalos says.


Western Sydney Airport has already begun the search for a construction contractor to build the airport’s terminal precinct. Registrations of interest closed in September 2019.

This contract will include construction of the first stage of Western Sydney International’s integrated international and domestic passenger terminal. It will also cover the baggage handling system, security systems, IT network and aerobridges.

“The contract is expected to be awarded in 2021, with work to begin shortly after. The terminal will cater for up to 10 million passengers per year on opening in 2026,” Mr. Tragotsalos says.

Gradually the terminal is expected to expand as demand increases, to eventually cater to 82 million passengers per year by the 2060s.

In 2020 earthworks will be a key focus. Contractors will get on with moving the equivalent of 10,000 Olympic swimming pools of earth.

“Market soundings have also commenced for more job-creating contracts including construction of the terminal precinct, runway and taxiways and internal roads,” Mr. Tragotsalos says.

He says the airport is working closely with the terminal design team British firm Zaha Hadid Architects and Cox Architecture in Sydney, to ensure a state-of-the-art terminal precinct is built.

“As well as building an airport, we’re focused on building an airport business to maximise the economic and social benefits this project will bring to Western Sydney,” Mr. Tragotsalos says.

“We’re working closely with our local community, from schools to business groups and local councils, and with our airline and freight partners, to ensure we build an airport that Western Sydney and the nation can be proud of.”

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