Sydney airport: its importance for the Australian economy

Sydney airport, the biggest of all the Australian airports, is located 8 kilometres from the centre of the city, in the Mascot area. For that reason, in addition to its official name of Sydney Kingsford Smith Airport, the airport is often called Mascot Airport. It is the busiest airport in Australia and the whole of Oceania, as well as one of the oldest airports in the world that is still in operation. Sydney airport currently serves 46 domestic destinations and 43 international destinations, and is the principal hub for Qantas and the second hub for Virgin Australia and Jetstar, as well as a key stopover for Air New Zealand. Aside from the airport’s unique features, today we focus on the statistics that make Sydney airport so important for the Australian economy.

A brief history of Sydney airport

As we have already mentioned, Sydney airport is known for being one of the oldest airports still in operation. The first flights took off from here in 1911, while the first regular flights were launched in 1924. In 1932, the first gravel runway was built, while by 1949 Sydney airport had 3 runways, of 1,787 metres, 1,190 metres and 1,085 metres respectively. The final section of the longest runway was crossed by a railway line.

During the 1960s, it became obvious that a modern international terminal was needed. The structure was built between 1966 and 1970, the year in which the first Boeing 747 landed, on a runway that was now 2,500 metres long. The terminal underwent new expansion work in the run-up to the Sydney Olympics in 2000.

Sydney airport today

Sydney airport now has 3 terminals. Terminal 1 is the international terminal, with 29 gates and a dedicated check-in for each airline company operating in the airport; it is divided into 3 levels, one for arrivals, one for departures and one for offices. The structure dates back to the 1970s, but it has been modernized over subsequent decades. Terminal 2 is devoted to domestic flights and therefore hosts the Australian airline companies, from Virgin Blue to Jetstar; it accommodates arrivals and departures on the same floor. Finally, Terminal 3 also serves domestic flights, and is the least busy terminal in Sydney airport, being used only by Qantas.

In terms of passenger numbers, Sydney airport registered 3.06 million international passengers between 30 June 2021 and 30 June 2022; as regards the annual number of domestic passengers, the number to keep in mind is the pre-pandemic number, registered between 30 June 2018 and 30 June 2019, with a total of 27.5 million passengers.

The role of Sydney airport in the Australian economy

The latest complete data describing the role of Sydney airport in the Australian economy are from 2019, as presented in a report by the Deloitte consultancy published in 2021 (with the title “Economic contribution of Sydney Airport 2019”). Deloitte states that in 2019, the largest airport in Australia registered 44.4 million passengers, more than a quarter of all Australian passengers, and hosted a total of 324,000 aircraft movements.

The Deloitte experts explain that: “The activities of businesses operating on the Sydney Airport precinct contributed an estimated $11.3 billion dollars in value added, with associated employment of 56,600 full time equivalent (FTE) jobs. The contribution of tourism and freight facilitated by the airport is equivalent to a further $30.7 billion in value added and generated an estimated 279,800 FTE jobs.”

Overall, therefore, in 2017: “The activities of Sydney airport generated or facilitated a total of 38 billion dollars of value added and 338,500 FTE jobs.” This represents about 2.2% of Australia’s Gross Domestic Product; while some of these activities are carried out outside the borders of New South Wales, the activities nevertheless represent about 6.8% of the state’s Gross State Product.

Looking to the future, by 2024, Sydney airport’s direct economic contribution will reach 7.4 billion dollars, increasing to 9.1 billion dollars in 2039, according to Deloitte’s estimates.

The new airport: Western Sydney Airport

There has been talk of the construction of a second airport for the city of Sydney since the 1960s, and the issue became particularly important from the 1980s onwards, as a result of the increase in air traffic over the city: between 1987 and 2000, flights more than doubled, as did the numbers of international passengers. In 2007, the Australian government declared Sydney Kingsford Smith Airport to be “full”, but without indicating any concrete solution to the problem. The solution arrived in 2014, when a project was presented for the construction of a new airport at Badgers Creek, 44 kilometres from the city centre and 41 kilometres from the main airport. As we mentioned, the airport is to be called Western Sydney Airport, and it will be opened in phases, starting initially with a single runway and a single terminal, with direct road connections to Mascot airport.

The construction of the new facility began in 2018, and the aim is to complete the first stage by December 2026. In 2019, it was also suggested that the name of Nancy Bird Walton should be added to Western Sydney Airport: she was a pioneer of Australian aviation as well as the founder of the Australian Women Pilots’ Association in 1950.