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November 28, 2014

Taking off

Set for a huge expansion in the coming five years, the Adelaide Airport is building upon decades of growth underpinned by a solid strategic vision. But the success of this cornerstone South Australian business is directly tied to the fortunes of the state as a whole.

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  • Words: Owen Lindsay
  • Pictures: Josie Withers

Exactly a century ago this year, the world’s first scheduled commercial flight took place in St Petersburg, Florida. Piloted by former boat engine mechanic Tony Jannus, the one-way flight to neighbouring Tampa Bay took 23 minutes and cost $5 ($120 in 2014 dollars).

From that first flight on a rickety wooden plane one-and-a-half metres above the water of Tampa Bay, today commercial airlines shuttle about more than eight million people a day – about three billion a year. Every minute that ticks by, 52 planes take off somewhere in the world.

At the beginning and end of every one of these flights is an airport. As domestic and international travel by aeroplane has increased, these facilities have become more and more central to the everyday business and leisure of billions of people around the world. And in a country as vast as Australia, airports are more than merely a convenience: they form the backbone of business and are a lifeline to rural areas.

Keeping time in the refurbished terminal.

Keeping time in the refurbished terminal.

Over the next 30 years, the Adelaide Airport is set to become even more central to the South Australian economy. Adelaide Airport Limited (AAL), which has operated the airport under a lease from the Commonwealth Government since 1998, recently released its 30-year ‘Vision’, which outlines plans to dramatically transform the site.

Among the proposals included in the Vision are an expansion of terminal space to triple the number of aerobridges from 14 to 52 by 2044, which would accommodate new-generation aircraft such as the A380 and Dreamliner. A new hotel, as well as new retail, parking and lounge spaces, will complement the expanded terminal.

Most significantly, the Vision outlines plans to develop an Airport Business District on the 785-hectare site. The proposed district will be host to a range of industry groups – from mining and freight to technology and healthcare– and promises to more deeply integrate the airport with the rest of the country, and beyond.

“We’re looking at providing, in the Airport Business District, facilities that are seamless, connected, convenient, people-friendly, and clustering companies who have similar aspirations,” says Mark Young, managing director at AAL. “We’re looking at targeting high-end companies, whose businesses are globally-focused… Our vision is to be a top-tier airport business centre for the Asia-Pacific.”

Adelaide’s airport already represents an important economic hub for South Australia, explains Mark.

“The airport is currently the single largest site employer in the state.”  Mark Young

Adelaide Airport's Mark Young.

Adelaide Airport’s Mark Young.

“The airport is currently the single largest site employer in the state,” he says. “There are around 8,000 jobs that are created as a result of the activity that takes place here, and there’s a further 9,000 jobs that are created indirectly at the airport. So that’s around 17,000 jobs and a contribution to the Gross State Product of about 2.1 per cent – so it’s a significant economic contribution to the state… [Over the next 20 years] we see that employment base going from 17,000 to around 36,000, and an economic contribution that is presently around $1.9 billion to over $4 billion.”

Parallel to the increased business presence on site outlined in the 30-year Vision plan, passenger use of Adelaide Airport is also projected to continue its growth. Patronage has already doubled over the past decade-and-a-half, with international passenger use almost tripling – and these numbers are forecasted to continue on a steady growth trajectory.

As for business going forward, Mark sees advantages in South Australia’s comparatively-smaller size. “We can be very nimble as a state. You know the old ‘six degrees of separation’? Well, within two to three calls [in South Australia] you can get to the business people and community leaders quite quickly, and make decisions quite fast in this state – if there’s a like-minded [attitude] and a resolve to do things.

“I see that as a competitive advantage of our state, and business travellers and others say this to me all the time: the ease, seamlessness and connectivity of the airport to the city are great advantages to our state.”

As Mark mentions, the airport’s proximity to the CBD represents another significant advantage for Adelaide. While Melbourne Airport lies 25km from its CBD, Adelaide is located just over 5km away. After a passenger picks up her baggage, she can be at her hotel or meeting in Adelaide within 15 minutes – no frantic train transfers or exhausting bus trips necessary.

It is an arrangement that is appreciated by the airlines as well as by tourists and business people. “Here, it’s fantastic,” says Hugh Chevrant-Breton, South Australian Manager at Singapore Airlines. “Adelaide’s position is an advantage for our crew, for our passengers. Imagine our crew, who have disembarked at 8.30, then cleared customs by 9 o’clock, and by 9.30 are at their hotel. Try doing that in Perth or Brisbane.”

“In my view, and in the view of a lot of people, tourism will save the state.”  Hugh Chevrant-Breton

Singapore Airlines’ Hugh Chevrant-Breton

Singapore Airlines’ Hugh Chevrant-Breton

Statesmanlike and affable, Hugh is an ideal representative for his airline’s brand. As CityMag joins him inside Singapore’s Kris Lounge, airside of the international terminal, Hugh pauses several times to greet customers who are awaiting their flights – some familiar faces, some new.

“Travel is no longer a luxury. Travel is a necessity,” he says, sitting down. He is referring to the transformation of Singapore’s customer base that he has witnessed during his 25-year tenure at the company. “15 or 20 years ago, if you wanted to travel it was expensive. You had to plan [extensively] for your holiday. Today, [carriers] promote fares for people to travel next week, whether it’s Europe or South East Asia.”

Singapore Airlines is the longest-serving international carrier at Adelaide Airport, having first begun operations at the site 30 years ago. Hugh has been here for about 10 of those years, and says that – although the airline has expanded from two flights a week to its current daily schedule – the persistent challenge for South Australia remains overseas promotion. While there has been a measured upswing in the number of international tourists visiting Adelaide, planes bringing visitors to the airport could still stand to be packed more tightly.

“We would love to see a lot more inbound tourism,” Hugh says. “If you look just at Asia as a market, all the way from China to India. That’s 3.5 billion people who are six to seven hours’ flight from here. If you attract only a fraction of the Chinese, Indonesian, Singaporean or Indian market, you’re laughing.”

Over the years, the team at Singapore have collaborated closely with state and federal tourism bodies to promote the SA brand abroad. These overseas promotional activities are complemented by the company’s local engagement: The ongoing Fashion Icons exhibition at the Art Gallery of South Australia was facilitated by Singapore, for example, and the company employs 33 people locally, as well as sourcing its food and wine from within the state.

“In my view, and in the view of a lot of people, tourism will save the state,” says Hugh. “There are possibilities of tourism becoming a year-round economic activity the same way it is in New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria. It’s just a matter of really investing more in tourism, and spending a little bit more money so we can expand the projection of the state. It has a huge potential.

“I personally think it’s good that people have to walk further, because they then have to sit on a plane for ages – and it’s good to stretch the legs on the other way, as well.”

CityMag agrees: The plaza, dotted with eucalyptus trees and decorated with a subdued pattern of sinuous line, seems an ideal spot in which to stretch your legs after a long haul. More importantly, as the place where most international visitors will step out to first meet Adelaide’s sun, it also performs a crucial role as the city’s visual brand ambassador.

The Plaza designed by TCL

The Plaza designed by TCL

“The idea of the pattern in the plaza came from looking at drier desert South Australian landscapes, and the patterns that you see from the air,” says Kate. “I’m really drawn to Australian desert landscapes – maybe it’s because they are so graphic by their very nature… [The design] is really about distillation, interpretation and abstraction of the [South Australian] landscape.”

Complemented both by the main terminal and Woodhead International-designed car park, pedestrian bridge and porte-cochere, the space presents a striking and confident face to travellers. It is a far cry from the dingy, utilitarian airport design of old, says Kate.

“We’re really proud of the result of this stage of the Adelaide Airport, because I think it [functions] as a real gateway to South Australia. It presents as a gateway to a city, rather than a provincial town. It has the scale that says it is a city gateway, and it also is place-

Landscape architect Kate Cullity

Landscape architect Kate Cullity

Crowning the newly-constructed plaza is a water feature designed to evoke the spindly river beds that pierce their way through the rural South Australian landscape. Developed by TCL in collaboration with sculptor Mark Stoner and Waterforms International, the water feature has an appropriately international pedigree.

“All of the stone that you see [in the feature] was hand-carved [in Fujian Province] China,” says Richard Kleinig, the TCL architect responsible for overseeing the water feature project to completion. “There are about 600 pieces, and each piece was individually cut… Each piece was coded and shipped back to Adelaide, then put together like a big puzzle.”

Wander further north of the plaza and you will find another recent addition to the airport: The Thomas Cooper Bar. A relaxed beer garden in form, the Bar is located on the exterior northern end of the terminal’s ground floor. When CityMag arrives for a mid-afternoon thirst quencher, we find a variety of patrons sitting along the park-style benches: a group of fly-in fly-out miners enjoying a round of Coopers’ finest, several professional-looking types engrossed in their laptops, airport staff eating a late lunch. A charming and subdued little spot, it seems all the nicer with the sun high in the sky.

The choice to leverage the Coopers brand when designing the project was easily made, explains Jason Gorgioski, National Airport Manager with Emirates Leisure Retail Australia (ELRA), which operates the venue. “Coopers Brewery is a South Australian icon, and the collective vision of ELRA and Adelaide Airport was to bring to life a social destination that could be connected to a hallmark brand associated with the state,” he says. ELRA has previously had success with the Coopers brand at Sydney airport, where they operate the award-winning Coopers Alehouse.

The Thomas Cooper Bar is but one of a host of businesses operating from inside (and – in this case – outside) of the airport terminal. Over 30 businesses call the airport home, with many Adelaide brands represented among them. The key to success in the atypical environment presented by an airport, says Jason, is adaptability.

Jason Gorgioski

Jason Gorgioski

“Each of our outlets has its own distinctive appeal and ambience to suit its respective airport… [This] site itself lent to a beer garden style format. The Thomas Cooper Bar is an Australian first full beer garden outlet and was built to enhance the brilliant new Adelaide Airport forecourt.”

Equally important for the bar, he says, was to provide a fully South Australian experience – both for guests who are sampling their first Aussie barbeque, and for those returning home with a hunger for local flavours. Consequently, the bar’s menu offerings (aside from its CityMag-tested-and-approved Coopers range) include a selection of SA wines, as well as meats and breads delivered fresh from local suppliers. “Taking what is distinctly South Australian and showcasing this also creates a real connection with our customers, not to mention that it illustrates our support for local businesses by profiling their distinct offerings,” Jason says.


Although the airport’s bright Arrivals terminal and renovated main plaza offer a first-class introduction to Adelaide for international guests, the intersection of Sir Donald Bradman Drive and West Terrace at the city proper remains visually underwhelming. The spot is an ideal candidate for a strong piece of sculpture or public art to provide a warmer welcome to visitors.

After some time spent sitting taking in the atmosphere, the unique rhythm of the place begins slowly to reveal itself. Groups come and go from their tables, drinks are bought and cleared away, suitcases are hoisted and pulled back through into the plaza, happy reunions made, lonesome farewells shared. And so the cycle ebbs and repeats. Such is the way of business at the airport and of the business of the airport.

The coming decades promise further growth, investment and transformation that will continue to be inexorably linked to the broader economic success of the state.

“The airport exists to be part of leading the growth [of the state],” says Mark Young, Managing Director at AAL. “But it also has to facilitate the growth. I describe the relationship between the airport and the city as a symbiotic relationship: we have to align our growth, and grow

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