Sydney’s second airport is still five years from completion, and many consider the ambitious infrastructure project a potential white elephant. But the airport’s CEO refutes that suggestion. He thinks Sydney’s second airport has enormous potential, and he’s already eyeing potential destinations, including India.
New airport build underway, but will airlines take up the opportunity to fly there?
Western Sydney Airport is a multi-billion dollar project underway 45 kilometers west of Sydney’s downtown. The airport is due to receive its first flights in 2026, however, the grand vision sees work continuing until mid-century.
The second airport, which has been decades in the making, has long courted controversy, especially among the harbor and beach hugging Sydney residents who prefer the convenience of Sydney’s existing airport.
But Western Sydney Airport CEO, Simon Hickey, reckons his new airport will lure plenty of people. He says within a 60-minute drive of Western Sydney Airport is the third largest population catchment in Australia. And not just any population catchment. Speaking to Tourism Australia’s Phillipa Harrison last week, Mr Hickey said western Sydney was home to over 200 nationalities, and that gave his new airport a serious competitive edge.
A big catchment with an interesting demographic mix
Roughly 2.5 million people live in western Sydney, of which nearly half were born overseas. Mr Hickey thinks this market will be key to Western Sydney Airport’s initial success.
“In terms of tourism, 25% of all international traffic is the VFR (visiting friends and relatives) market. But some of those markets, like India, are 55%.
“I think that will be one of the significant drivers of our airport in the early days.
“India is a good example. There’s a very large Indian community in here in western Sydney, and I can’t imagine that we won’t be flying direct traffic there in the future.”
It’s not just India Simon Hickey is eyeing. With so many nationalities living within the airport’s catchment area and so many markets unserved from Sydney’s existing airport, he sees a lot of scope for international operations out of Western Sydney Airport.
“What we’ll see is the opening up of new opportunities and new markets,” he says.
Services between India and Australia a tough nut for airlines to crack
Services between India and Australia have traditionally been a tough nut for airlines to crack. There is a big Indian diaspora living in Australia and a normally thriving higher education market. But there have always been few direct flights.
Until the travel downturn, the only direct flights on offer were Air India services between Delhi and Sydney and Melbourne. Qantas has failed to make inroads into India, despite a couple of attempts. The lion’s share of traffic between the two countries belongs to Singapore Airlines. Despite the Singapore stopover, that airline normally offers frequencies, connections, and networks into Australia and India that no other airline comes close to matching.
Whether Mr Hickey can lure Singapore Airlines to his new airport is debatable. But is there room for new carriers to start operating on the route, using Western Sydney Airport instead of Sydney Airport? Flying into a normally price-sensitive market like India, could Mr Hickey instead be thinking about airlines like Jetstar, IndiGo, or Vistara?
It’s an interesting possibility. Simon Hickey says he’s already signed memorandums of understanding with Qantas, Jetstar, and Virgin Australia and had engagement with over 60 airlines. While still five years away from its first flights, Western Sydney Airport may well rise to become a serious competitor to Sydney’s normally notoriously overcrowded and slot-constrained existing airport.
What do you think? Will Western Sydney Airport succeed? Will it attract international services? Post a comment and let us know.