Australia’s Sunshine Coast to expand, privatise airport

The country's third-largest metropolitan area is also looking to build a subsea cable as part of an infrastructure plan designed to grow its economy to $24bn by 2033.

Queensland's Sunshine Coast council intends to privatise its major international airport after the extension of its runway completes in 2020. 

“We will construct and de-risk the project and hope to introduce equity investors to the airport operations once the runway extension will be finished by December 2020,” Mark Jamieson, mayor of the Sunshine Coast told Infrastructure Investor. 

The new East-West-oriented runway is expected to open the third most populated area in Queensland, located 100km north of Brisbane, to more domestic and international destinations. It now provides direct flights to Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Auckland New Zealand, and the mayor is looking to add Singapore and Perth into its network after expansion. 

The council, the owner and operator of the airport, is seeking an A$190 million ($137 million; €123 million) loan from the federal government to deliver the A$347 million project. The funds raised by the future privatisation are expected to be used in repaying debt, according to Jamieson. 

“An investment partner will be sought in the operations of the Sunshine Coast Airport through a commercial market-based process which will commence by July this year”, states a leaflet to investors. 

The project construction has recently received environmental approval, but is still pending federal approvals. 

Jamieson added the airport expansion plan also includes expansion of the aircraft apron and improvements to the existing passenger terminal facilities, which will be done in separate phases.

Sunshine Coast wants to increase its connectivity to the world, not only through international flight services but also via digital data networks. 

The council is lobbying with the Australian Communications and Media Authority to set up a submarine cable protection zone offshore from the Sunshine Coast. The council has mapped the potential submarine cable route and will seek expressions of interest from private sector to deliver the project in the near future. 

Currently, there are five international submarine cables which provide data connectivity to other parts of the world. Four of these cables, which are owned by TPG, Telstra and Optus, land near Sydney on the eastern seaboard and control 80 percent of Australian internet traffic directed offshore to the USA. The fifth cable connects Perth in Western Australia. 

It is forecast that existing submarine cable capacity will be heavily constrained from 2017 onward. 

Jamieson suggests the Sunshine Coast – which is more than 1,000km north of Sydney – is well positioned to provide another internet access point to lower the “single point of failure” risk and reduce vulnerability of having too many cables at one access point. 

The council hopes the delivery of an international broadband can also attract a new calibre of investment in technology-based enterprises and ventures, as well as businesses dependent on high volume online transactions and businesses in the banking and financing sectors. 

The Sunshine Coast has been bringing forwards its pipeline of infrastructure projects in a bid to boost its economy and tourism business. It aims to grow from an A$13 billion economy to one worth of A$33 billion by 2033.

The A$1.8 billion Sunshine Coast University Hospital and the phase one of a new smart city-themed Central Business District are currently under construction, with the former expected to become operational next year. The council has also proposed a light rail project, forming a backbone of the region's future public transport system. It is now undertaking the feasibility analysis of the preferred solution.