Western Sydney International Airport takes wing

Simon Hickey, CEO, Western Sydney Airport.
Simon Hickey, CEO, Western Sydney Airport.

After more than three years of earthmoving, the Western Sydney International Airport’s runway construction will kick off next year. Roads & Infrastructure talks to Chief Executive Officer Simon Hickey about some of the cutting-edge technologies that will shape the airfield.

When it opens in 2026, the Western Sydney International (Nancy-Bird Walton) Airport will be showcasing an airfield designed around maximising passenger safety and operational efficiency. The technologies embedded in the airfield’s design will ensure reduced taxi times for the planes, which will be key to the airport’s seamless operation.

While initially handling around 10 million domestic and international passengers a year, the airport is forecast to be accommodating up to 82 million passengers annually by 2060 following the addition of a second runway. By comparison, Sydney’s current international airport, the Kingsford Smith Airport, handled 44.4 million passengers in 2018.

The runway for the Western Sydney International Airport will be designed to handle the full range of commercial aircraft, including the new generation of ultra-long-haul airliners like the A350-1000 and Boeing 777X. It will be the only airport in Sydney equipped with a modern CAT III-B instrument landing system, meaning it will continue operating safely in foggy conditions that currently shut down Sydney’s skies.

But before that first flight takes off from the airport, construction would have gone through a number of phases and ticked more milestones.

A major milestone for the project came earlier this year in September, when the contract to design and construct the airport’s airfield was awarded to the CPB Contractors and ACCIONA joint venture. The contract includes building the airport’s 3.7-kilometre runway and rapid exit taxiways, as well as construction of more than 40 kilometres of airfield roads, facilities and services. It also includes more than 90 kilometres of power and fibre optic cabling to electrify the airport.

Western Sydney Airport CEO Simon Hickey says the contract award followed a competitive procurement process.

“The contract was awarded following a competitive procurement process, including an open registration of interest, to find the best solution and ensure we maximised value for Australian taxpayers,” he tells Roads & Infrastructure.

“The efficient airfield design, enabled by the latest technology, will reduce taxi times, preventing delays on the tarmac that can be frustrating for passengers and costly for airlines. Our airfield design means we’ll safely get planes in the air or to the gates faster,” he adds.

Construction challenges to date

Preparing the airfield in the lead up to runway construction has not been an easy task. Spread across nearly 1800 hectares of undulating terrain, construction for the project has involved massive earthmoving challenges, according to Mr Hickey.

“Work to build Western Sydney International Airport commenced in 2018, kicking off one of the biggest earthmoving challenges in Australian history with around 26 million cubic metres of earth to be moved,” he says.

“Work to build Western Sydney International Airport commenced in 2018, kicking off one of the biggest earthmoving challenges in Australian history,” says Mr Hickey.

“We needed to flatten what was a very hilly site – the difference between the highest and lowest points is equivalent to a 12-storey building. So, we’ve definitely had our work cut out for us in what is a significant engineering feat.”

The early earthworks and major earthworks packages for the project were earlier awarded to the CPB Contractors and Lendlease Engineering joint venture. With the Lendlease Engineering business subsequently acquired by ACCIONA, the latest runway construction contract marks the third project awarded to the joint venture.

“We’ve had hundreds of workers and machines on site undertaking this mammoth challenge – the scrapers, excavators, dump trucks and dozers on this site are some of the biggest in the world, the kind you expect to see on mega mining projects,” says Mr Hickey.

With more than 19 million cubic metres of earth moved to date, Mr Hickey says the site is getting ready for construction of the terminal to begin later this year, with construction of the runway due to commence in 2022.

“Major construction procurement is almost complete, with the contract to design and construct the airport’s landside civil and building works set to be awarded in the coming months,” he adds.

Sustainability in focus

According to Mr Hickey, focus on sustainability has been key to the design of Western Sydney International Airport.

“Sustainable design, energy efficiency and circular economy principles are key considerations as we build Western Sydney International,” he says.

The airfield will be utilising recycled and reused content where appropriate, including recycled road base, recycled asphalt product and recycled glass as well as reduced carbon materials in concrete.

“Millions of tonnes of crushed sandstone from tunnelling projects across Sydney, such as WestConnex and Sydney Metro, will be reused as a high-strength foundation to support the construction of the runway, taxiways and roads,” Mr Hickey says.

The construction of the Western Sydney Airport terminal will begin later this year, with runway construction commencing in 2022.

“Another way we’re incorporating sustainable solutions into the airport’s airfield is by using LED lights for our aeronautical ground lighting. This ensures significant energy savings across the airfield and a significantly longer design life, meaning less frequent replacement required.”

Moreover, the Western Sydney International Airport will use a Digital Addressable Lighting Interface, meaning these energy efficient LED lights can be individually controlled, permitting safe wayfinding on the airfield, as Mr Hickey explains.

“Overall, the package of work is required to achieve an Infrastructure Sustainability ‘Excellent’ rating, which includes reducing carbon emissions and waste,” he says. “We’ve also considered how emerging technologies will be enabled in future, such as electric and hybrid electric aircraft.”

The design of the airport’s airfield will also drive sustainability outcomes by reducing fuel burn and associated costs by slashing taxi and holding times for aircraft.

“Sustainability considerations are also front and centre as we build Western Sydney International’s terminal, with an efficiently designed façade, air conditioning and lighting systems to provide superior energy efficiency and reduce carbon emissions,” Mr Hickey adds.

“Sustainable options will be considered while ensuring the technical requirements of the infrastructure are being met and will be subject to rigorous performance testing prior to use.”

The first phase of earthworks completed in 2020 has already received an Infrastructure Sustainability ‘Excellent’ rating. Major earthworks and terminal construction projects are also required to achieve an Infrastructure Sustainability ‘Excellent’ rating.

Keeping an eye on the environment

With a 117-hectare Environmental Conservation Zone located within the airport site along Badgerys Creek, Mr Hickey says protecting features of high environmental value are of utmost importance. ​

“The airport can only be as successful as the region it serves, so we’re also playing our part in the sustainability of Western Sydney,” he says.

In ensuring maximum diversity outcomes on the project, WSA also has employment targets for local and diverse workers.

“Our community partnerships support employment and education programs across Western Sydney and contribute to rehabilitating natural ecosystems in the area,” Mr Hickey says.

“There are strong rules around the sustainability standards we must meet as we build Western Sydney International, but we are looking for opportunities to go further in ensuring the airport represents a commitment to future generations.”

This article was originally published in the December edition of our magazine. To read the magazine, click here.

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