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Australian Capital City Airports – Part 1


With a kickstart to travel this year following a couple of tough years, airports worldwide are struggling to do what they have always done best: to process passengers and get them onto flights.   Australian airports haven’t changed, but airlines have faced massive hurdles resulting in baggage delays and cancelled flights. Staff shortages are the number one issue facing airlines and airports today. 

We all have our favourite airports, so let’s start by looking at the three busiest airports in Australia and Oceania- Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane.


Sydney Kingsford Smith Airport is one of the world’s oldest continuously operating airports.   Established in 1919 by the Australian Aircraft and Engineering Company, the airport sits on 907 hectares of land. These are the lands of traditional owners; the Gamayngal, Bideagal, Gweagal, Gadigal and Gadhungal people. 

What began as canvas hangars and a single runway is now Australia’s busiest airport, connecting to over 90 destinations worldwide.   The airport is a mere 8 kilometres from the city centre, making it accessible to most of Sydney’s major tourist attractions.

  • Regular flights between Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide were operating by the mid-1920s.
  • During this time, the Australian Government had taken control of the airport. They opened a passenger terminal in the 40s and diverted Cooks River to allow for two new runways.
  • A Qantas Boeing 707 was the first jet to take off from Sydney Airport in 1959.  The first Boeing 747 landed in Sydney in 1970 and the Concorde visited several times from 1972 to 1999. 
  • The north-south runway was extended into Botany Bay in 1963, and the International Terminal commenced construction in 1965. A third runway was approved in 1989 and completed in 1994. 
  • In 1963, work commenced extending the north-south runway southwards into Botany Bay, and in 1965, work started on constructing the International Terminal.
  • Finally, in 1989, the parallel (or third) runway was approved and completed in 1994.
  • The Australian Government privatised Sydney Airport in 2002. The airport is owned and operated by Sydney Airport Corporation Limited (SACL)
  • Sydney Airport joined the National Reconciliation Action Plan (RAC)  in 2019 and committed to supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples.
  • Sydney Airport is rated as one of the top 5 worldwide airports and has received multiple awards, the latest being the 2022 – Australasian Reporting Awards – Silver Award and the 2021 – AAA National Airport Industry Awards – Capital City Airport of the Year.

Air Cargo

Sydney Kingsford Smith Airport handles around 45% of Australia’s national cargo traffic. The airport has seven dedicated cargo terminals, two domestic and one international terminal.

Sydney Airport is Australia’s largest import and export hub.

A second new airport is currently being constructed in Western Sydney.  The $11 billion airport is due for completion in 2026. 


Melbourne Airport, sometimes known by its indigenous name, Tullamarine, is the second busiest airport in Australia. The Melbourne-Sydney air route is one of the most travelled air routes in the world. 

The traditional owners of the area of Tullamarine are the Wurundjeri people. The name ‘Tullamarine’ is thought to be the name of a young boy from the Wurundjeri clan, Tullamareena. Melbourne Airport is the current name of the airport, but it used to be called Tullamarine Airport. Some people call it Tulla in honour of its original name.

  • Tullamarine was opened in 1970 to replace nearby Essendon Airport. Essendon Airport was initially constructed in 1950, but with so many passengers using it, they soon realised that a bigger airport needed to be built.
  • In 1959 the Government secured some land, and in 1969 Robert Menzies announced a 5-year plan to build a new airport on the Tullamarine site.  
  • In the meantime, the runways at Essendon were extended to carry the larger jets, including Airforce One that landed in 1967, carrying US President Lyndon B Johnson.
  • The current airport is 23 km from the city and offers around 33 direct flights to Australian destinations and multiple overseas destinations. When the airport first opened, it consisted of three connected terminals with the international terminal in the middle.
  • Like all Australian airports at the time, Tullamarine was put under the control of the Federal Airports Corporation in 1988. However, in 1997 Australia Pacific Airports Corporation Limited acquired Melbourne Airport with a 50-year lease.
  • From 1989 – 1995 significant upgrades were carried out on international and domestic terminals allowing for double the number of people to be processed in the international terminal.
  • In addition, a multi-story car park was completed in 1995 to cater for the growing number of travellers.
  • A fourth terminal was opened in 2000, along with the widening of runways to cater for the Airbus A380.  

Air Cargo

Melbourne airport is a central freight hub for the Australasian region, handling more than 30% of Australia’s International air freight.  The airport has a dedicated freighter apron, making it one of Australia’s more accessible freight hubs. 

Melbourne has three dedicated freight carriers that operate 35 monthly freight services, in addition to the 2300 weekly services that service Melbourne. 

Brisbane Airport

Brisbane Airport has a rich aviation history. The current Brisbane Airport (BNE) has two major terminals from which 34 airlines fly to 85 domestic and international destinations. It is the third-largest airport in Australia by passenger numbers.

The first incarnation of Brisbane Airport was the 32-hectare Eagle Farm Aerodrome, where Captain Jack Treacy first landed his Sunbeam Avro Aircraft in December 1922.

In 1925 the Commonwealth purchased land for Brisbane’s first airport. This land was around 5 kilometres from the current Brisbane Airport. The airport was opened under the Civil Aviation Branch of the Department of Defence.

  • Eagle Farm Aerodrome was where Sir Charles Kingsford Smith landed in 1928 following his historic flight across the Pacific. Bert Hinkler also landed here in 1928 after his first solo flight from England.
  • In 1930 female aviator Amy Johnson landed here after her historic solo flight from the UK, becoming the first woman to do so.
  • 1931, Eagle Farm stopped being used as a landing strip for several years due to the swampy nature of the ground. The land was turned over for grazing until after WWll when the RAAF set up a base. The Americans improved the runways and built infrastructure before the Commonwealth took over the running of the airport in 1947.
  • In 1971, new premises were required, so the land was purchased not far from the original site. Prime minister Bob Hawke officially opened the Brisbane Airport International Terminal in March 1988, just in time for the World Expo.
  • 1995 was the opening of another new International Terminal at Brisbane Airport by the Prime Minister, Paul Keating.

The Brisbane airport has undergone many transformations and expansions over the years to cater for royal visits, World Expo, G2O Summit and the Commonwealth Games, not to mention the day the Beatles touched down!

The world-class airport has won many awards and is the first airport to formally commit to celebrating and promoting the traditions, laws, and customs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders with the launch of its first Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP).

Air Cargo

Brisbane Airport processes about 13 per cent of the Australian air freight imports and exports market, servicing over 380 destinations.

Brisbane offers international freight services for the many Queensland exports with major global freight companies close to the airport. The airport also has a substantial freighter apron.

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