The Covid-19 pandemic hasn't hindered progress on Australia's largest aviation construction project, with Brisbane Airport Corporation announcing the practical completion of its new
$1.1 billion runway.
A key part of Brisbane’s broad infrastructure pipeline, works on the 360-hectare site—more than twice the size of the city’s CBD—Brisbane Airport Corporation (BAC) and Skyway, a joint venture between BMD Constructions and CPB Contractors, commenced in 2012.
BAC chief executive Gert-Jan de Graaff said while the milestone marked the end of the project, it also signalled a new beginning for Brisbane Airport, post-Covid-19.
"In many respects this runway is symbolic of the very firm belief we have that aircraft will, in the not too distant future, return to the skies and our terminals will once again be full of happy people looking forward to visiting their families, their holidays or to travel to do business.
"Now more than ever, it is crucial that we have the infrastructure and mechanisms in place to allow our great city and state to recover from the Covid-19 global pandemic, and Brisbane Airport, and this new runway will play a strong part in that."
"The last few months have been difficult for everyone in the aviation and travel industries, as well as the whole community, but we have never lost sight of the fact that this project has been built for the long term. It will serve us well for many decades to come," de Graff said.
"Today is a culmination of eight years of physical construction, many years before that in planning, and foresight from nearly half a century ago for an airport with the growth capacity to meet the aspirations of the city and the state."
De Graaff said thousands of people had worked on the project over decades and thanked them for their contribution to one of the most important construction projects in Queensland's history.
"As we reach this historic milestone, I must commend the entire new runway team for putting their heart and souls into this project over the last 15 years.
"Every step of the way the BAC team has been supported by many partners, suppliers and contractors who have contributed—it truly is a project built by the community for the community," de Graff said.
"This new runway is so much more than asphalt; it is an enabler for recovery and growth across all facets of business, with an estimated 7,800 new jobs created by 2035 and an additional $5 billion in annual economic benefit to the region."
More than 3,740 people were employed over the life of the project, with a peak of 650 people on site in mid-2019.
Ninety per cent of the 324 different subcontractors engaged during the project were based in south-east Queensland, putting in approximately 3.3 million hours.
With practical completion now achieved, the operational readiness and testing program will continue ahead of the runway's official launch on 12 July, despite the coronavirus-related cancellation of the community celebrations that had been planned prior to the outbreak of Covid-19.
BAC head of corporate communications Leonie Vandeven said the runway will open as planned to passenger and freight services, regardless of the drop in demand due to the pandemic.
"Every flight, every passenger, every piece of freight is critical revenue for primary producers, critical for jobs and critical for the economy.
"As Queensland’s main air freight gateway, Brisbane Airport remains committed to serving the community and the industry during this crisis keeping essential infrastructure open to support critical supply connections on key air freight trade lines," Vandeven said.
With international passenger services almost completely absent from the skies, Vandeven said that air cargo capacity, which is mostly carried in the belly of passenger aircraft, had become "extremely scarce".
"Virtually overnight, 90 per cent of established air supply chains collapsed cutting off key markets and leaving producers with few options."
Qantas and Virgin Australia also continue to operate reduced domestic networks, in addition to international freight and repatriation flights, and this week the airport also welcomed flights from Malaysia, Malindo and Philippine Airlines—all carrying freight.
"The BAC team knew it was crucial we worked hard to support and maintain these lifelines so that people throughout Queensland and across the world could continue with their lives and livelihoods," Vandeven said, adding that BAC was able to utilise its relationships with numerous airline partners in moving quickly to support and complement airlines working to access available freight opportunities.
"We were able to help to identify local exporters impacted by the crisis, and performing a ‘matchmaking’ role by facilitating suitable connections in the local supply chain."
Prior to the Covid-19 outbreak, the new runway had been set to effectively double Brisbane Airport’s capacity, bringing more visitors to the region and allowing Brisbane residents a greater choice in airlines and destinations.
It's a very different story now, with international passenger numbers in April to date totalling just over 11,000, compared to more than 462,000 in April 2019.
Domestic passenger numbers have taken a similar hit, with April figures to date totalling nearly 61,000, compared to more than 1.312 million at the same time last April.
Still, Vandeven maintains a long-term view.
"We hope the runway's opening will be a comforting reminder to the tourism industry and the whole community that things will get better and the future will be bright.
"We have considered all scenarios and our investment in the new runway is a vote of confidence in Queensland’s future and our confidence in that future is just as strong as ever."