Inside Australia's ultra-modern 'fog-proof' Western Sydney International Nancy-Bird Walton Airport

It's a little-known fact that the flight route between Sydney and Melbourne was, until COVID-19, the busiest route in the world.

Combine that with the fact that Sydney is Australia's gateway to the rest of the world and it comes as no surprise that Sydney Kingsford Smith International Airport is the busiest in the region.

Pre-pandemic, 44.4 million passengers moved through Sydney Airport in 2019 - more than double Auckland International Airport's passenger figures.

With numbers like that, it is no surprise there has been a push for a second airport to open in Sydney.

But it's more than an issue of just high demand for international travel skyrocketing in the 2000s.

The first proposal for a second airport was put forward to authorities as far back as 1940 and there's been proposals almost every decade ever since.

Now Sydney's second airport is no longer just streaks of pencil markings on paper, it's holes in the ground, partially built infrastructure, and it has a name.

The Western Sydney International Nancy-Bird Walton Airport.

Inside Australia's ultra-modern 'fog-proof' Western Sydney International Nancy-Bird Walton Airport
Photo credit: Western Sydney International Nancy-Bird Walton Airport.

Work to build the new airport commenced in 2018, kicking off one of the biggest earthmoving challenges in Australian history with around 26 million cubic metres of earth to be shifted.

So far, crews have moved more than 18 million cubic metres of earth in preparation for construction of the terminal, which will begin later this year. 

In 2022 the rubber really hits the road, with construction of the airport's runway due to begin early in the new year.

When it opens in 2026, Western Sydney International will be able to handle 10 million passengers per year, gradually expanding as demand increases over the years to eventually cater to as many as 82 million passengers per year in the 2060s.

Unlike Sydney's current airport on the other side of town, flights into Nancy-Bird Walton Airport will be able to operate 24-hours a day, seven days a week.

Sydney Kingsford Smith International Airport has to close overnight due to noise restrictions.

Speaking to Newshub, Western Sydney Airport's CEO Simon Hickey said it wasn't just the ability to operate a round-the-clock operation that makes the location of the airport so significant.

Inside Australia's ultra-modern 'fog-proof' Western Sydney International Nancy-Bird Walton Airport
Photo credit: Western Sydney International Nancy-Bird Walton Airport.

"When Western Sydney International opens, it will be the closest airport for more than 2.5 million people, meaning it will have the third largest catchment of any Australian airport on day one," Hickey said.

"The airport is set to grow in stages over decades, eventually becoming one of the largest gateways to Australia."

Many of the world's largest airports have been built up over time with renovations and extensions to keep up with the pace of growth, but Western Sydney International was able to start from scratch with its design so it could be future-proofed for further expansion.

"Every aspect of Western Sydney International, from the integrated international and domestic passenger terminal to the airfield and air cargo hub, is being designed from the ground up with the customer front and centre," Hickey said.

"Great design, sustainability, digital technology and data will come together to set a new benchmark for what passengers expect when they fly. People will love catching a plane from Western Sydney International, it will be fast, easy and seamless."

The streamlined design isn't just in the terminal, it's on the tarmac as well. 

"Our efficient airfield design, enabled by the latest technology, will reduce taxi times, preventing delays on the tarmac that can be frustrating for passengers and costly for airlines and safely getting planes in the air or to the gates faster."

Inside Australia's ultra-modern 'fog-proof' Western Sydney International Nancy-Bird Walton Airport
Photo credit: Western Sydney International Nancy-Bird Walton Airport.

It will be the only airport in Sydney with CAT III-B runway equipment allowing aircraft to continue operating in foggy conditions, which at the moment brings air traffic in and out of Sydney to a halt.

"This sophisticated instrument landing system allows aircraft to safely continue operating in foggy conditions with virtually no visibility," Hickey said.

Its runway will be 3.7km long and 60m wide, meaning it will be able to handle large commercial aircraft including ultra-long-haul airliners like the Airbus A350-1000 and Boeing 777X.

While it's too soon for airlines to sign on and confirm they will operate from the new airport, Hickey says the interest is there.

"Our early engagement with Australian and overseas airlines has been extremely encouraging," he said.

The airport has already signed memorandums of understanding with Qantas, Jetstar and Virgin Australia. Both Qantas and Virgin Australia have publicly declared their intention to operate all their brands, including their premium brands, from the new airport.

Since the arrival of budget airlines, many cities have opened up secondary "no-frills" airports with lower landing fees. These terminals can be as basic as a check-in desk, a convenience store, and the departure gate.

But Western Sydney International is making it clear it's not one of those. In fact, they say it will be the best airport terminal in Australia.

"It will be a full-service international and domestic airport catering for all airlines, as well as air cargo operators," Hickey said.

"The airport will have a combined international and domestic passenger terminal, which means a seamless experience for passengers and faster transfers between flights. It will be Australia's best airport terminal."

He also said with New Zealanders being on the top of the list for inbound travellers into Australia before COVID-19, it's likely that it won't be long before Kiwis touch down at Western Sydney International Nancy-Bird Walton Airport.