After a successful trial last year, privately funded airport, Brisbane West Wellcamp in Queensland, received its first scheduled Cathay Pacific Cargo freighter service. The flight departed at night with a load of Queensland’s agricultural produce bound for China along with some outsized mining equipment.
Brisbane West Wellcamp is the first privately built and funded public airport in Australia. It is the brainchild of the family-owned Wagners business, a concrete, construction, aggregates and infrastructure company run by four brothers. It has bases across Australia and overseas, but with its heart very much in Toowoomba, Southeast Queensland.
Chairman John Wagner is also in charge of operations at the airport, which welcomed its first regular Cathay Pacific Cargo freighter service in November following a successful trial in 2015. And he has bigger ambitions for the airport and the opportunities it brings to his home turf. ‘The Cathay Pacific freighter service is a fantastic thing for the airport and the region, but we’ve got a lot more to do,’ he says.
This includes doubling the scheduled 74 passenger services a week by this time next year, for the airport to handle 1.5 million passengers annually in the next decade (including overseas visitors for whom an international terminal is planned) along with a parallel focus to turn the airport into a freighter hub. ‘When all that happens I’ll be a much more content human being,’ he says.
But there are already grounds for satisfaction. The airport has produced a huge confidence boost for the region. For 20 years Wagners had made the case for an airport to connect Toowoomba, Australia’s second-largest inland city, to boost the region’s agricultural exports, as well as developing its tourism potential. Wagner says: ‘When we started to develop our Wellcamp Business Camp, we found it difficult to attract national and international companies because of the lack of connectivity. So the family made a decision in 2012 to proceed with an airport.’
‘Build it and they will come’ is something of a cliché, but it holds true here. ‘We hadn’t realised how much confidence our decision would give the local investment community,’ adds Wagner.
‘Toowoomba is now one of the country’s investment hotpots.’And its cargo credentials are developing fast as well, led by the freighter service. ‘We’ve created the infrastructure, Cathay Pacific has created the logistics, so there are options for farmers to get produce to Asia overnight to half of the world’s population,’ says Wagner.
Now there are plans to route an inland rail project that links Melbourne and Brisbane via Wellcamp. ‘We will build an intermodal terminal at the airport which will make the airport a logistics hub, and an economic alternative to Sydney for companies in the south of the country,’ says Wagner.
Construction starts in 2017, the same year that an infant milk formula factory opens on the business park. The first stage will see annual production of 30 million tins of formula, a product in huge demand in China. ‘The second phase will create thousands of jobs through the supply chain,’ says Wagner.
You sense real pride in how Wagners has developed and is influencing the development of Southeast Queensland. It’s a far cry from the early days of the business when John drove trucks for the family firm. He says: ‘When we started 27 years ago we didn’t know where we’d end up but it’s been a great ride.’
Passengers, shippers and forwarders can agree on that.