Julieanne Alroe, chief executive, Brisbane Airport
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.