Sydney Airport is Australia’s busiest commercial airport. It now handles over 43 million passengers and some 350,000 aircraft movements annually. These numbers will keep increasing. This poses a series of challenges for Sydney Airport.
By 2040, Sydney Airport expects approximately 66 million people to be using the airport annually. This 51% increase in passenger numbers is happening even before the Western Sydney Airport‘s opening in 2026.
International arrivals and departures are expected to be a big driver in growth. The bulk of passenger movements in 2020 are domestic. However, by 2040, the split between international and domestic passengers is expected to be more even at 48% and 52% respectively.
What do the next 20 years look like for Sydney Airport? Here are a few key points to keep in mind.
Growth in passenger numbers will exceed aircraft growth
First, growth in aircraft movements will not match growth in passenger numbers. This can be attributed to upsizing aircraft, increased density and load factors. A spokesperson for Sydney Airport said;
“Growth in total aircraft movements is expected to be significantly lower than passenger growth; 408,260 aircraft movement are forecast in 2039, an increase of 17 percent on 2017.”
While Terminal 1 will remain the primary international terminal, international flights are planned to also operate from Terminals 2 and 3. This will be good news for local airlines like Qantas and Virgin Australia. They will be able to use a single terminal for domestic and international operations. This will make life easier for both airlines and passengers.
Access roads will be upgraded
Secondly, the congested road network around the airport is set to be upgraded. Road access to and from Terminals 2 and 3 can be problematic at peak hours. Sydney Airport plans to fix this with new road access. Qantas Drive will also be widened to four lanes in each direction. Whilst that will be welcome, the works phase will be a nightmare for drivers.
Present constraints need to be accepted and dealt with
Third, Sydney Airport is assuming that there will be no changes to the curfew, aircraft movements, flightpaths cap or noise sharing arrangement over the next 20 years. The airport is fairly space constrained. The likelihood of another runway is next to nil. That would require land reclamation in Botany Bay and environmental issues would kill any proposal to do so. Sydney Airport plans to counter these restrictions by improving aprons, taxiways and infrastructure.
Fourth, infrastructure improvements in the terminals are being planned to help the airport deal with expected growth in passenger numbers. Plans for Terminal 1 include an extension of the terminal, a new satellite pier, more contact gates, border processing facilities and more baggage facilities.
Across at the domestic terminals – Terminals 2 and 3 – another satellite pier is planned. This is in addition to the aforementioned integration of regional, domestic, and international services into single terminals. The Sydney Airport spokesperson says;
“A benefit of the terminal development plan is the reduction in inter-precinct transfers.
“The ability to transfer passengers and baggage within the same or adjacent terminal facility is considered to be the most reliable, convenient and efficient method of transfer. Accordingly, a reduction in the minimum connection time to transfer passengers between flights will be possible.”
More remote stands
Fifth, despite improvements to terminal infrastructure, Sydney Airport plans to make more use of the dreaded remote stands. International aircraft are presently parked in the airport’s south-west sector and a wide variety of aircraft are parked in the south-east sector. Bussing passengers directly to aircraft may not be a crowd-pleasing move, but it is a cost-effective option for handling both aircraft and passenger growth.
All big airports face challenges as they plan for growth. Sydney Airport shares similar challenges to other airports. It also has some unique challenges such as space constraints and curfews.
But the airport acknowledges these constraints in its planning and seems reasonably confident it can work with them. With big growth in passenger numbers expected, Sydney Airport has no choice but to keep planning and keep moving forward.