Maintaining its vision to be the world’s preferred airport
Brisbane Airport (BNE) is the premier gateway to Queensland, and the third busiest airport in Australia by passenger numbers. In the early 1980’s, the airport was moved by Leighton Holdings to its current 2700-hectare site, located Northeast of Eagle Farm, making it the first Brisbane Airport, opening its portals in 1988 when construction was completed. While the original site had proven to be heavily congested, and surrounded by houses, the new location has provided sufficient room for the long-term growth of the airport. Also, the strategic zoning of the surrounding area has created a buffer of industrial land between the airport and Brisbane’s residential areas. With the nearest house located 6 kilometres from the edge of the airport’s runway, the noise issues that plague a number of major airports have been anticipated and avoided. “The Brisbane Airport is the biggest airport by landmass,” says Julieanne Alroe, CEO and Managing Director of Brisbane Airport Corporation (BAC), “so we see this site being able to cope with aviation growth well into this century.” 1996 was a significant milestone in Brisbane Airport’s history, marking its privatisation and the creation of BAC. Australian superannuation and investment companies make up approximately 80% of the current ownership of the corporation, of which Schiphol Amsterdam Airport maintains a 19% share hold of. Since 1996, the airport’s annual passenger count has more than doubled, rising from 10 million to the current 22.8 million, with BAC’s 2014 Master Plan forecasting further growth of up to 40 million annual passengers by 2034. “We’ve seen strong growth, and this site has developed enormously under privatisation,” states Alroe. “It’s been a really good story for Brisbane.”
Every year, over 16 million passengers travel to and from Brisbane Airport’s domestic and regional terminals, while between 5 to 6 million pass through its international terminal. The airport offers a wide variety of services, ranging from luxury airlines such as Emirates, to a number of low-cost options. With a growing number of connections into Asia, America, and over 40 destinations within the country. BNE is one of Australia’s best-connected airports, particularly for travel into rural and regional Queensland, the most decentralised of the states. As well, the airport’s location is important for travel to and from New Zealand plus the Pacific Islands, whilst also being useful to Queensland’s mining industry, for which Brisbane serves as a hub within the state. The city is also quickly becoming the headquarters for aircraft maintenance and training within Australia. Qantas and Virgin Australia Airlines both have maintenance facilities at the airport, with Qantas increasingly moving its major maintenance operations into Queensland. Brisbane’s proximity to a number of large air force bases, maintenance repair organisation facilities, and various warehouses and suppliers located at the airport itself has played a grand factor in the city’s growing role as a major aviation service hub. As a 24\7 operation, BNE is not hindered by curfew problems, and BAC’s large-scale investment program ensures consistent capacity growth for the airport well into the future. In addition to a number of successful retail businesses within the terminals, the airport also offers a variety of car parking options, ranging from the highest quality valet to good value short and long term parking options. A range of public transport choices are also easily accessible for travellers, including two railway stations as part of the privately owned airport rail line ‘Airtrain’, taxis, rent-a-car markets, and an inter-terminal bus connecting the two terminals to the nearby Skygate shopping precinct, and a hotel, with another two hotels in the planning for the future. BAC has also been developing an increased focus on accessibility. “We take a lot of pride in making sure that passengers with disabilities or mobility limitations have good access to Brisbane Airport,” emphasises Julieanne. Over the past two years, the airport has invested over $1 million to improve accessibility on all levels. “A recent favourite is our newly opened Assistance Animals Bathrooms, so that people travelling with assistance animals can now look after their animals without having to go back through security. That’s just one of many things we do here, and we’re very committed to making this the most accessible airport in Australia.”
Over 60,000 passengers travel through Brisbane Airport every day, making it a very intense and fast-paced working environment. As such, BNE has a full range of intensive health and safety initiatives, management systems and training. One of the airport’s largest programs, however, focuses on the local wildlife. “Brisbane sits on the edge of the bay, and in a very diverse area with seabirds and other forms of wildlife that may pose a threat to aircraft,” Julieanne explains. “This is one of our highest funded and staffed programs, we’ve put a lot of effort into that.” Most recently, the airport carried out a major series of drainage, grass management, and numerous other programs to reduce attractive areas for birds in high-risk areas. With the help of a local university, the BAC is also currently studying a large colony of flying foxes near the airport, and investigating methods to keep them away from aircraft without disrupting them.
Considerable measures are taken by BAC to ensure that the airport is a clean and safe place for passengers. “It’s obvious to them that this is a well-managed and secure environment that is safe to travel through,” says Alroe, “and we’re working very closely with local police, customs, and quarantine to do so, but in a way that doesn’t generate cues and congestion.” One of Brisbane Airport’s major ambitions is to eliminate cues as much as possible through the streamlining of various processes, while still maintaining a focus on the needs of the traveller. “The younger generations are digitally savvy, and are happy to check in on their smartphones,” says Julieanne, “but there are older travellers who still need assistance to go through customs, and have people help them with their bags. We try to deal with customers in a range of ways, but still work to achieve that same outcome of making a very clear and uncluttered process.”
Brisbane Airport is currently in the process of carrying out a $45 million re-development in its international departures and arrivals areas. “We want to create an area that’s got a much stronger sense of place, not a generic terminal that could be anywhere in the world,” Alroe explains. “We want people to recognise through the architectural cues, and the style of furniture and facilities, and the food we’re serving, that they are in subtropical Queensland; that they are in Brisbane.” As part of the redevelopment BAC is looking to feature more self-service systems, intended to help increase efficiency so that visitors can go through the formalities quickly before relaxing and enjoy the new area and its amenities. “While we currently have some self-service ‘Smart Gates’ only travellers from five specific countries can use them and we’re very keen to see that grow quickly, and into more countries.” In cooperation with quarantine services, BNE is also working to facilitate as quick a secondary processing system as possible. BAC aims to complete first of these new facilities before the G20 in November, with the remaining facilities to be finished within the following eight months. Of even greater importance, however, is the new runway development, which was approved in 2007, and is now a year into construction. The $1.3 billion, 3,300 m runway will take approximately eight years to construct and is being built on swampland two kilometres west of the current terminal area and parallel to the existing main runway. Over the next tw to three years, 13 million cubic metres of sand that has been pumped out Moreton Bay will consolidate and stabilise the boggy 300-hectare site, allowing for construction to begin. “It’s really important to us that no harm is done to Moreton Bay through this process,” Julieanne says. “We’ve got very rigorous standards around the sand mining, but also very stringent requirements around water management on the site.” Any water runoff from the process is trapped and treated, and only released back into the bay when the water meets the highest decontamination standards. BAC aims to have the runway complete and fully operational by no later than 2020.. “Once we’ve got that parallel runway, we’ll have enough runway capacity at least through to the end of the century. It’s probably the biggest project this company will ever do, so it’s pretty exciting to be part of.” A number of other development projects are currently underway at the airport as well, including two new aprons to continue support of domestic aviation, an apron expansion at the international terminal, and new air bridges for the domestic terminals.
BNE has won a vide variety of awards for their service, sustainability, engineering, development, and airport management, which include the 2007 Smart State Award in the Services category, a finalist ranking in the 2009 Corporate Sustainability Award category in the EPA Sustainable Industries Awards Scheme, the Lord Mayor’s Business Award for Sustainability in Business in 2013, and the 2014 Premier’s Sustainability Awards Business Eco-Efficiency Award and 2014 healthy Waterways ‘Sustainable Water Management Award’. In 2014, they were rated the top Australian airport for their quality of service for the 10th year running in a survey done by the Australian Competition and Consumer Association (ACCC), and came in 3rd place at the Skytrax World Airport Awards for servicing 20-30 million passengers, for being one of the best airports with the best staff. Brisbane Airport also has long-term aeronautical deals with all of its partner airlines, so any developments that may be carried out will already have revenue streams attached to them. “In terms of the company’s expansion in the future, I feel that the value for the shareholders is locked in,” Alroe says, “and that gives us a lot of confidence going into the future.”
The close relationships that Brisbane Airport maintains with its partner airlines has enabled them to generate a number of large-scale construction programs, which have been funded in part from BNE’s landing fees. “We’ve spent a lot of time working with them, and in a place like an airport, no one entity is responsible for everything,” states Julieanne. Working side by side with its airlines, BNE has been able to overcome a number of challenges, including inclement weather and onsite construction, and through efficient cooperation and communication, have been able to build their average on-time arrival rate up to 85%. “These relationships are not just nice things to have, they’re absolutely vital.” BAC also has strong relationships with the state, which, alongside a committed community, have helped them them receive the licenses they need to maintain their operating hours and avoid debilitating curfew restrictions. “Without those relationships, that would have been a very hard thing to defeat, so we don’t take that ‘license to grow’ we get from our community for granted.”
Julieanne feels that tax increases, as well as rising global competitors for tourism, are major issues that may affect the travelling and aviation industry. “Australia has been doing well, but other countries are learning from us, so we keep striving for more,” explains Alroe.
Julieanne Alroe grew up in Brisbane, across from Eagle Farm Airport. She studied at the University of Queensland, where she received a Bachelor in Economics. She was appointed to the position of CEO and Managing Director at BAC in July 2009 after working in various operational and senior management roles at the Sydney Airport. She has worked in aviation for over 35 years, 33 of which were spent in airports themselves. She has an extensive knowledge and experience in commercial airport management and operations, infrastructure management, business and airport planning, corporate affairs, airport scheduling, slot management, security, passenger facilitation, terminal management and airport IT systems. In addition to her primary role at BAC, Julieanne currently holds board positions with Brisbane Airport Corporation Pty Limited, Australia TradeCoast, Tourism and Events Queensland, Urban Futures Brisbane and the Queensland Theatre Company. She is also the Chapter Chair of Creative Partnerships Australia and a Member of the Council of Governors of the American Chamber of Commerce QLD and is a Queensland State Advisory Council Member for the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA).. Some of her previous board appointments include the position of Chairman of Airports Coordination Australia, and Airports Council International Safety and Technical Standing Committee.