The best small airport in the world
Canberra Airport plays an ever-growing role as a national transportation hub, commercial business park, and retail destination – but it hasn’t always. From humble beginnings as a lone paddock in 1924, the Airport has evolved into one of the most significant infrastructure projects in the ACT. It now displays an unending commitment to Canberra and the surrounding region, and its steady growth continues to generate significant economic benefits which are shared on a local, regional and national scale.
The Airport’s commitment to evolution has been recognised by many industry bodies, including the Australian Airports Association – who twice awarded it ‘Australian Airport of the Year.’
“We’ve delivered something that is modern, world class, and has major opportunities for growth,” says Stephen Byron, Managing Director of Capital Airport Group – which owns Canberra Airport, and is responsible for its ongoing development and operation.
“That says something for the city of Canberra,” Stephen says. “It shows that it has grown up. 2013 is the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the city, and this airport – and the new international terminal – is not only a gateway to the city, it’s a statement. It says ‘We’re now part of the modern world’.”
Capital Airport Group was first formed by Stephen and Executive Chairman Terry Snow, who purchased the Airport in 1998 from the Commonwealth Government. At the time of purchase, Canberra Airport consisted of a small-scale terminal, a general aviation precinct, and the RAAF Fairbairn base – which was decommissioned in 2003. In ‘98, the Airport’s facilities were considered to be in decline, and Stephen describes the aviation infrastructure as “rundown”.
“We had a sheep paddock at the back,” he recalls. “And on the other side we had the old military base. Then we gave ourselves the goal of building the best small airport in the world.”
Fifteen years later, Canberra Airport now comprises a brand new international and domestic terminal, as well as three business precincts – Brindabella Business Park, Majura Park and Fairbairn. It has been the recipient of long term investment by Capital Airport Group and undergone considerable expansion and rejuvenation. Stephen calls this record of growth the “Canberra Airport AirVolution”.
“The collapse of Ansett Airlines showed that the aviation industry is very volatile, and that taught us to broaden our thinking,” he recalls. “So we set about building a world class business park.”
The Capital Airport Group has brought together what Stephen describes as “a defence and aerospace hub”, anchored by the Asian headquarters of Raytheon, and including representation by Cisco, KPMG, Deloitte, as well as significant players in the defence industry.
A great team
Today, Canberra Airport is completely family-owned. Stephen and Terry have no external shareholders, and have a close working relationship with all of their staff, the airlines, and the airline staff. They have built a culture around being a “close community airport”.
“That’s allowed us to invest all of our passion and dreams into building a great airport,” Stephen says.
The Airport’s staff includes roughly 100 people across three main business units, including Aviation, Property and Corporate Services. Stephen says that although they have become a large business – which is to be expected for the airport of a major city – they have retained their small family business values.
“We’re very close to all of our staff,” he says. “We’ve completed an enormous amount of capital works – over the past 14 years, we’ve completed roughly 70 different major projects worth nearly $1.8 billion. That couldn’t have happened without delegating a huge amount of responsibility and authority to our staff.
“They have taken on the opportunity that comes with that responsibility, and they have made things happen,” Stephen continues. “They have taken charge, and they have surpassed our own vision and ambitions.
“We’ve got a world class team with a level of expertise that’s second to none,” he adds. “They deserve all the credit for what’s been built for the city.”
Stephen also highly praises the efforts of their contractors, particularly the local construction and project management company Construction Control, led by John Gasson. They have been working with the Airport since the first minor refurbishment following its privatisation, and have grown alongside it.
Further credit, Stephen adds, belongs to the local architecture firms of Daryl Jackson Alastair Swayn, and Guida Moseley Brown – who designed all the business parks and the recent international terminal, respectively.
Canberra Airport has also used the same electrical, structural, mechanical and air conditioning contractors all along the way – and they have grown to trust and value their relationships with all of them.
“We have a great team,” Stephen says.
That team also includes their airlines, Qantas and Virgin Australia – who are also their customers. Stephen says their cooperation with those companies is what ultimately allowed them to get the new terminal built, even in the face of the Global Financial Crisis.
“The relationship and sense of partnership and trust we’ve built with the airlines has been fantastic and instrumental,” he says.
Under Stephen’s stewardship, Canberra Airport has received a long list of accolades for its design, commitment to sustainability, and its overall excellence. Not only has it been twice-named Airport of the Year by the Australian Airports Association, but it has also received nods from the ACT Government, the Master Builders Association, the Property Council of Australia, the Green Building Council, and more.
“We value those awards a lot, because they recognise the hard work and dedication of the team – from the airlines to the building contractors,” Stephen says.
“And our vision is to create the best small airport in the world,” he adds. “Winning those kinds of awards proves we’re on the right track. They validate the strategy, and they show that the delivery has met the strategy.”
Stephen credits the Airport’s award-winning consistency, and their enviable green record in particular, to their “overriding culture of excellence”.
“We’ve always had a culture of building the very best quality facilities,” he says. “And that inevitably means investing in the highest levels of energy performance, and also facade systems to minimise sun and heat penetration. We’ve always considered that important,” he says.
“One of our office buildings was the first ever 5-Star GreenStar-rated building. It was a pioneering project for our team, and for the country as a whole. We took the learnings from that and applied them to our new terminal.
“We have tri-generation energy systems, so we generate our own electricity and use it to both air-condition and heat our buildings,” he explains, citing just one of many environmental measures they have in place.
“That’s enormously energy efficient,” he says. “It’s about 47 per cent more efficient than a 5-Star energy system.
“But It’s not just about corporate social responsibility,” he adds. “It’s about delivering the best quality facility.”
Moving forward, Stephen says they will not rest on their laurels. They will continue striving to be the best, and they will continue evolving to meet current and future needs.
Stephen points to Sydney Airport, which is predicted to face significant capacity restraints in the future. Because the Australian political system is unlikely to allow for a second airport in Sydney, Stephen sees a need there.
“We’ve got a major responsibility to be ready to carry some overflow traffic,” he says. “And there really is a wonderful opportunity in the connection of Canberra Airport with Sydney and western Sydney by way of a high speed rail.”
Such a rail would cost $10.9 billion to connect Canberra Airport to Sydney’s CBD, 57 minutes away – or would cost $4.5 billion to connect to western Sydney, 42 minutes away. Either option would result in a train station integrated into the new terminal. It would be only 215 metres from the front door of the train terminal to the front door of the airport terminal – and only 300 metres from train door to plane door.
“In terms of a 15-year vision, we’d like to bring that to fruition,” Stephen says.
In the nearer future, Canberra Airport will also be launching and receiving international flights. Their new terminal has a $42 million international component and is due to be completed by the end of 2013.. Stephen says they are looking forward to incorporating flights to Auckland and Wellington in New Zealand, as well as flights to Asian and Middle Eastern hubs like Singapore, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur and Dubai.
“The direct links to the global community, and particularly the Asian economic powerhouse, from Australia’s national capital will open up huge opportunities for commerce in our region, for companies that want to come here to do business, set up their operations here, and use the Capital Region as their base. Likewise direct export trade opportunities for smart Australian businesses will open up in a way that is not possible now.
“The impact will be enormous.”
For more information, please visit their website at: Canberra Airport