Joe and Dennis Wagner at their airport construction site at Toowoomba. Their brother John says there is no 'rocket science' in getting an airport built. Photo: Glenn Hunt
The Queensland businessmen building their own privately-funded public airport have a simple message for Sydneysiders debating the need for a second airport – ‘‘just get on and do the thing’’.
John Wagner and his three brothers are building a $100 million airport west of Brisbane at Toowoomba. It will be opened in October sporting a 2870-metre runway and terminal, just 18 months after construction began.
‘‘You see governments do report after report [on the need for a second airport in Sydney], and spend millions and millions of dollars on consultants. But there is no rocket science in it,’’ John Wagner said on Monday.
The Wagners are one of Queensland’s richest families, having built their wealth from a construction company which bears their name. Its primary work is on oil and gas projects in Australia and parts of Asia, but it has been involved in airport redevelopments such as that at Canberra Airport.
With the opening of what they have dubbed the ‘‘Brisbane West Wellcamp Airport’’ just months away, the family is in talks with airlines including Qantas and Virgin Australia about flying to Toowoomba.
Mr Wagner said there was ‘‘no doubt’’ of the demand from travellers because about 344,000 people fell within the curfew-free airport’s catchment area. Brisbane Airport is more than two hours’ drive away.
‘‘We have 1.187 million visitors a year to Toowoomba and we don’t have an airport,’’ he said.
‘‘[The project] really started as a real-estate play. We were building a business park and we found that when we were talking to international companies, and companies out of Sydney and Melbourne, the first question was, ‘how do we get there’? It is truly going to be a game-changer for our region.’’
However, the Lindsay Fox-owned Avalon Airport near Geelong has shown that attracting airlines to fly to a regional airport is not easy. The airport has been forced to diversify its business in the wake of Qantas’ decision to close its heavy aircraft maintenance base there by March, as well as Jetstar and Tigerair reducing services in recent years.
Mr Wagner said the new airport in Toowoomba was situated further from Brisbane than Avalon was to Melbourne, and it would work to ensure it did not rely on one airline operating from it.
He described as ‘‘overwhelming’’ the response from airlines including Qantas and Virgin about the possibility of flying to the new airport at Toowoomba. He is hopeful the first route will be from Melbourne.
‘‘They are keen to get involved but we haven’t struck a commercial deal yet,’’ he said.
‘‘Sydney and Melbourne are no-brainers in terms of routes [from Toowoomba]. We will be a regional hub.’’
However, the airlines have been less forthcoming about the talks with the Wagners.
Qantas would say only that it regularly met airports around the country about new route opportunities.
Virgin said it continually explored ‘‘opportunities to offer new services to regional Australia and will assess this opportunity as we do others’’.
Tigerair Australia said it had no ‘‘current plans’’ to fly to Toowoomba but ‘‘we continue to talk to a number of airports and tourism partners about our future plans’’.