Q&A

Julieanne Al­roe, chief ex­ec­u­tive, Bris­bane Air­port

The Australian - The Deal - - First Up - In­ter­view by: Glenda Korporaal Pho­to­graph by: Paul Har­ris

Bris­bane air­port CEO Julieanne Al­roe is ready for the big G20 mo­ment.

JULIEANNE Al­roe has been the chief ex­ec­u­tive of one of Aus­tralia’s busiest air­ports for almost five years. Next month she faces another chal­lenge: cop­ing with the ar­rival of world lead­ers when Bris­bane hosts the G20 – in­clud­ing her per­sonal hero­ine Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel.

How big is Bris­bane air­port?

We han­dled 21.8 mil­lion pas­sen­ger move­ments in 2013-14 and we have 620 air­craft move­ments a day. We are the sec­ond busiest air­port in Aus­tralia in terms of air­craft move­ments and the third big­gest in terms of pas­sen­gers han­dled, after Syd­ney and Mel­bourne. This fi­nan­cial year we did about $500 mil­lion in rev­enue. We are a pub­licly un­listed company with a mar­ket cap­i­tal­i­sa­tion of about $5 bil­lion.

Who owns the company?

We have five ma­jor share­hold­ers. Am­s­ter­dam Schiphol air­port has 18.7 per cent. It has been a share­holder since the air­port was pri­va­tised in 1997. It’s great for us to have a big part­ner like Schiphol. It does a lot of re­search and de­vel­op­ment and we share a lot of their in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty. The other share­hold­ers are Aus­tralian su­per­an­nu­a­tion funds.

Next month Bris­bane will host the G20 meet­ing. How dif­fi­cult will it be to run the air­port through that event?

The G20 will be a big chal­lenge for us, han­dling all the air­craft. We are ex­pect­ing an ad­di­tional 26 gov­ern­ment air­craft over and above what we would nor­mally han­dle here on any day. In terms of pas­sen­gers we don’t think it will be a par­tic­u­larly busy time as a lot of peo­ple avoid a city with a big event on. A lot of our nor­mal business prob­a­bly won’t hap­pen. It will be sub­sti­tuted by G20 peo­ple. But we will get all the ex­tra han­dling and se­cu­rity is­sues which will sur­round it. It will be a big lo­gis­ti­cal ex­er­cise. We will have to man­age all the del­e­ga­tions com­ing through and the ad­di­tional se­cu­rity as well as some road clo­sures around the air­port when the mo­tor­cades are mov­ing. We are try­ing to keep our op­er­a­tions as close to nor­mal as pos­si­ble for busi­nesses that de­pend on be­ing able to op­er­ate through the air­port.

How do you study for a G20 as an air­port man­ager?

My se­nior op­er­a­tions man­ager went to Am­s­ter­dam ear­lier this year to look at how Schiphol han­dled the nu­clear sum­mit. They had about 50 del­e­ga­tions com­ing to that, not nec­es­sar­ily as se­nior as with a G20 meet­ing, but on an op­er­a­tional ba­sis, prob­a­bly even on a slightly big­ger scale again. We sub­se­quently sec­onded one of the guys out of Am­s­ter­dam to help us on some of the op­er­a­tional plan­ning. I worked at Syd­ney air­port when we han­dled the 2000 Olympics. Much ear­lier in my ca­reer I did a lot of work on the Bi­cen­ten­nial (in 1988) when we had a lot of vis­i­tors come through the air­port. We are work­ing very closely with the G20 task force, the Queens­land po­lice and the fed­eral po­lice.

How did you get into the air­port business?

I did an eco­nomics de­gree at the Univer­sity of Queens­land. I wanted to get into avi­a­tion. If you ask me why, I prob­a­bly don’t have an an­swer other than it looked like a re­ally cool place to work. Back in those days, many peo­ple in avi­a­tion came from the RAAF or en­gi­neer­ing. I joined the Fed­eral Depart­ment of Trans­port and started work­ing at Syd­ney air­port in 1981. We were all pub­lic ser­vants in those days. The air­ports, Qan­tas and TAA [Trans-Aus­tralia Air­lines] were all owned by the gov­ern­ment. I had no idea what an air­port was all about but I fell in love with it. From the first day I walked into Syd­ney air­port to this day, I still reckon it’s the best job you could pos­si­bly have. In some ways I was a bit of a trailblazer, prob­a­bly in a very mi­nor, un­ob­served way. I just sort of kept go­ing and learn­ing, kept tak­ing a few risks and op­por­tu­ni­ties and carved out a ca­reer some­what un­ex­pect­edly. Here I am, 33 years later, run­ning my own air­port.

How has the air­port business changed since you got into it?

When I started, air­ports were just glo­ri­fied train sta­tions. At Syd­ney in­ter­na­tional air­port if you wanted break­fast they would have big trays of spaghetti and baked beans out of cans. It is mas­sively dif­fer­ent to­day. Peo­ple ex­pect good food and bev­er­ages. They ex­pect con­ve­nience, value for money, park­ing and shop­ping. They want tech­nol­ogy avail­able to them freely and con­ve­niently. They ex­pect to be able to get through with­out too many queues and dif­fi­cul­ties, while our se­cu­rity lev­els are mas­sively dif­fer­ent. When I started we used to have a white picket fence around some part of Syd­ney air­port. We try to bal­ance se­cu­rity and safety re­quire­ments around the ex­pe­ri­ences that peo­ple ex­pect to get from an air­port now. They don’t ex­pect us, in Bris­bane, to pro­vide the Changi air­port ex­pe­ri­ence as we don’t have that scale, but they do ex­pect Bris­bane air­port to be ef­fi­cient and pleas­ant and an ap­pro­pri­ate gate­way to our city and our com­mu­nity.

You have some ma­jor ex­pan­sion plans un­der way at the mo­ment?

We are at the be­gin­ning of a $2.6bn up­grade which will take place over the rest of this decade. A ma­jor piece is that is a new par­al­lel run­way which is a very big un­der­tak­ing in any air­port’s life, both from an en­vi­ron­men­tal point of view as well as the sheer cost. We are spend­ing $1.3bn on it. We are well and truly started and have our com­mer­cial ar­range­ments in place with our air­line part­ners. We are also spend­ing around $45m on the in­ter­na­tional ter­mi­nal re­de­vel­op­ment. At the do­mes­tic air­port we are do­ing around $50m of aprons. That is the first of about four rolling apron pro­grams over the next six or seven years. We will be start­ing a new re­gional lounge, fol­lowed by a low-cost ter­mi­nal by the end of the decade. We are also un­der­tak­ing a very sig­nif­i­cant IT up­grade as we fa­cil­i­tate self-ser­vice check-ins for the air­lines and more self-ser­vice bag drops. We are also work­ing with the fed­eral gov­ern­ment to trial the new out­bound bor­der ser­vice. This should make our bor­der process quicker and more ef­fi­cient and with higher se­cu­rity be­cause we are us­ing bio­met­rics. Bris­bane air­port was se­lected as the trial of the pro­gram and we have been very ex­cited about that.

How has growth been at the air­port?

Our strong­est growth is in the in­ter­na­tional area. We are start­ing to see about five per cent growth in in­ter­na­tional traf­fic which is good, solid growth. Like most air­ports, the big­gest growth is com­ing from China. We are also start­ing to see good, strong growth from some of the other North Asian coun­tries and the sub­con­ti­nent. We are start­ing to see a re­vival in more tra­di­tional mar­kets out of the US and Europe as well. With the dol­lar com­ing back to slightly more rea­son­able lev­els, in­bound traf­fic is pick­ing up. We are start­ing to see a lot of Aus­tralians go­ing over­seas. That mar­ket is strong and will prob­a­bly be more en­hanced with more low-cost in­ter­na­tional fares. We have also seen a lot of growth in re­gional fly­ing. In Queens­land it has been almost en­tirely fu­elled by the fly-in fly-out traf­fic from the min­ing boom. We saw a big growth in that in the fi­nan­cial years 2012 and 2013. It has come off a bit this year as some of the con­struc­tion projects are fin­ish­ing and the LNG projects are start­ing to move into their op­er­a­tional phase. But there is still a lot of fly­ing in Queens­land with the re­sources sec­tor. It will be a ma­jor part of our op­er­a­tions go­ing into the fu­ture, par­tic­u­larly when some of the newer projects in the Galilee Basin get go­ing.

What are your favourite over­seas air­ports?

I think Changi air­port (in Sin­ga­pore) is a fan­tas­tic air­port. In­cheon (in South Korea) is another great air­port. Th­ese air­ports are big hubs, very dif­fer­ent to us. Copen­hagen air­port is a great air­port and Dal­las is a fan­tas­tic air­port. We are also look­ing very much at Gatwick from an op­er­a­tional point of view. It is the busiest sin­gle run­way air­port in the world and we rate num­ber two.

You have men­tioned in the past that one of the peo­ple you most ad­mire is An­gela Merkel. Will you have a chance to meet her when she is here next month?

When you look at what she has been able to achieve over the last few years, with what has got to be a pretty or­di­nary set of cir­cum­stances, she has been fan­tas­tic. And she re­ally does it on her own terms. The del­e­gates will be han­dled in a sep­a­rate part of the air­port and get into their mo­tor­cade to go to the G20. They will only be here for a short time. It’s very much a business meet­ing. I don’t think I will get the chance to meet her, but it would be fan­tas­tic if I could.

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