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Brisbane West Wellcamp Airport
Research_

Brisbane West Wellcamp Airport, DIY protagonist

The vision of one creates opportunities for many
The Better Infrastructure Initiative have created five case studies based on DIY infrastructure protagonists who have little tolerance in waiting for government. Brisbane West Wellcamp Airport is one of those examples.
Protagonist:          Brisbane West Wellcamp Airport
Domain:       Real estate and aviation
Where:     Toowoomba, Queensland (130km west Brisbane)
When:   April 2013 - November 2014

The opportunity

Develop the first international civil aviation airport in Australia for over 50 years. The transport hub will service one of Australia’s largest regional centres, with airport facilities and 2,870 metres runway capable of taking 747-800 aircraft.

Motivation

Enhance investment attractiveness for Wellcamp Business Park, owned by the Wagner family. They were having trouble attracting international investors owing to its distance from Brisbane, poor access for business travellers and inferior air connectivity. This was despite Toowoomba being Australia’s second biggest inland city that sits in the middle of the biggest agricultural regions in Australia. It is a large service provider to the Surat Bowen copper and soon to be Galilee basins. It also has a big health and education sector and with poor aviation connectivity.

Source of capital

The Wagner family balance sheet financed 100 per cent of the development that totalled around $200 million. No government money was provided. As there were no customers when the project began, and therefore zero projected revenue, the banks did not provide any capital for the Wellcamp Airport.

Impediments

The Wagner’s optimism and appetite to invest in aviation contrasted dramatically with expert opinion at the time. While this served to ensure there was little competitive tension from other protagonists, it also meant that investors and other stakeholders were at best neutral to the development. That said, it appears community support for the project was strong, as well as the local media suggesting the Wagner’s had prepared and networked with the community to ensure support.

Regulation was a potential Achilles’ heel for the Wagners. While there were risks, the Toowoomba Regional Council deemed their development application ‘code assessable’. This was critical, as it would mean the project was fast tracked and could therefore proceed without an environmental impact statement or community objections being tabled.

Timing was very important to the project development, as the Wagners optimised planning processes that emerged during council mergers in Queensland. The pre-amalgamation planning code that was conducive to the airport development remained in force until the start of 2012–13 financial year. The merged council would have required extensive community consultation and environmental assessment that could have delayed the project and potentially tipped the Wagners into not proceeding.

Unexpected outcomes

John Wagner says there were no particular surprises with the delivery and now the operation of Wellcamp Airport. It was delivered on budget and on schedule in 19 months and 11 days.

Contrary to the expectations of others, the airport has been cash positive for almost the past 12 months, with the only 747-800 jet freight service operating in Queensland.

One area that has been a cause of surprise for John Wagner is the way the airport has boosted community confidence in investor activity that has been to the benefit of Wellcamp and the broader community.

Read more case studies. 

DIY infrastructure protagonists empower communities to be centred on customers and services.
Garry Bowditch