Western Sydney Airport construction on track despite pandemic

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Despite the economic and logistical difficulties, the Covid-19 pandemic has caused Australia’s economy, and particularly its aviation industry, construction of the new Western Sydney International Airport remains on track with the massive major earthworks stage well underway.

The bulldozers began moving earth from the site mapped out to be the new international airport more than a year ago and the project has already achieved a number of important early milestones.

A joint earthworks venture between CBP Contractors and Lendlease has moved more than seven million cubic metres of a total 20 million cubic metres of earth and a number of the projects’ early objectives have been met. These include the construction of heavy plant maintenance workshops, the construction of temporary water basins and the removal of the Old Northern Road asphalt.

The proposed design for the airport, which is planned to carry an estimated 10 million passengers a year when it opens in 2026 and 86 million a year by 2060, constitutes one of the country’s largest and most ambitious earthmoving projects ever attempted.

As an example of the sheer scale of the earthworks, during this stage of construction up to 20 million cubic metres of earth – equivalent to filling 9,000 Olympic swimming pools – will be taken from the hills in the construction zone and rearranged within 1,780 hectares of land. The removed earth will result in a construction zone measuring 12 storeys from top to bottom.

So big is the project that it requires an army of 200 earthmoving trucks manned by hundreds of workers.

In addition to the earthworks, more than 983,000 tonnes of sandstone has already been transported to the site to be used as a supportive layer to sit beneath taxiways, runways and roads in the airport precinct.

With a completion date of 2026 and $5.3 billion price tag, the entire airport project ranks eighth in a list of most expensive Australian construction projects ever undertaken – just behind Queensland’s Cross River Rail project ($5.4 billion).

The major earthworks stage has created thousands of jobs, with the airport expected to have generated direct and indirect employment for more than 28,000 people by the time it’s completed. 

Despite construction progress, doubts about the economic viability of a second airport have arisen in light of a significant revenue drop off in the aviation industry, with some business professionals calling for a ‘go slow’ to free up funds for smaller infrastructure projects.

In an article by the Australian Financial Review, Executive Director of Sydney Business Chamber, Katherine O’Regan, says, “There is no doubt that Sydney needs a second airport at Badgerys Creek, and it’s not a project to stop, but it’s a legitimate question to ask around sequencing of the project and that includes the $4.1 billion in associated roads.”

However, a spokesperson for Western Sydney International Airport says: “Despite the impact of COVID-19 on travel, the need for Western Sydney International is as strong as ever. Experts forecast global air travel demand will recover from COVID-19 well before the airport opens in late 2026. This airport is not just for the next decade, but for decades and generations to come.”