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New projects, better connection for Bankstown

When 30 local school students descended on Bankstown Airport for its Girls in Aviation Day last week, they were part of a push by the airport to broaden its reach in the community as it prepares for growth.

The third busiest airport in Australia, according to 2017 BITRE aircraft movements report, is not just preparing for some exciting new projects in the years ahead, it’s also building stronger connections within the airport precinct.

Sydney Metro Airports chief executive Lee de Winton – who oversees both Bankstown and Camden airports – sees her role as a “business matchmaker”.

With 4000 staff working across 160 businesses at Bankstown, she says the various flight schools and aviation businesses have typically worked fairly independently of each other.

That is now changing, as some key projects have begun to instil renewed community pride across the precinct.

While some of those projects have seen very noticeable changes at the airport, others have been focused on building greater connection between airport businesses and the community.

The Girls in Aviation Day is a case in point. A joint initiative with the Liverpool and Canterbury-Bankstown councils, de Winton says the day would deliver benefits far beyond the 30 girls who attended.

As one of the few new projects that have allowed the neighbouring councils to join forces for an initiative of its kind, the airport approached the councils with the concept to help young people realise genuine careers in their own backyard.

The unique partnership was born as a result, and both councils have worked closely with the airport to promote the event in local schools.

The area not only serves as a potential catchment for businesses at Bankstown Airport, but is ideally located to support local skills development as the construction of Western Sydney Airport gets underway.

The airport has also joined forces with the Regional Aviation Association of Australia (RAAA) to deliver women in aviation assistance scholarships.

The five winning year 11, 12 or TAFE students will receive two introductory flights with BASAIR and spend two days on site with the airport management team learning about compliance, operations, aviation safety and contractor management at the airport.

As a former RAAF wing commander who has also worked for the Department of Defence and Qantas, de Winton says seeing more women in aviation has become something of a personal crusade.

“The majority of my life I’ve been the only woman in the room – we need to bring more women into the business and watch the amazing changes that take place,” she says.

“It’s about breaking down cultural and traditional barriers – it’s a revolution from the bottom up and changing people’s mindset in life.

“Especially as we see the continual reports coming through now about higher performing teams and businesses as a result of diversity.

“I feel this huge responsibility to help girls get into aviation roles – let’s not tell them they can’t do it, let’s tell them how they can.”

She said local council support had been a fantastic endorsement of the importance of projects like this in the community.

However, de Winton recognises that the airport needs to keep pace with technology and growth to continue providing opportunities such as this for local residents.

Already contributing approximately $1 billion to the local economy, she says there remains room to expand as the airport updates WWII era assets and creates a renewed sense of pride for the airport community.

“It’s a lot of work, but we’re getting there,” she says.

“It’s about knowing your customer and knowing their needs in depth and we are looking at this development and how it meets the needs of the community.”

Having already relocated office buildings and non-aviation businesses out of old hangars as part of the renewal process, the airport currently has a major development plan to redevelop its South West Precinct out for public consultation.

“With the development we’re progressing on the South West area of the airport, the forecast is we will raise our economic contribution to about $1.6 billion in the next five to seven years.”

The project would see the creation of an initial 37,000 square metre warehouse in a largely unused and under-developed part of the airport, while also completing surrounding siteworks and an internal road network to support it. The second phase would see this grow to a 150,000 square metre business park.

The development would help create a new logistics and innovation hub on the airport precinct to drive further growth for the local area.

The airport’s master plan will also be released for public consultation this year to further define the airport’s vision for the future.

Now 18 months into the job, de Winton says while there are challenges, there is a real willingness to lead positive change for the whole airport precinct within her team.

“The airport has a complexity that’s not easy to see on the surface, and we only have about 30 staff, which covers aviation safety, airport operations, maintenance, property and finance. It’s a small team doing a great job with a huge task,” she says.

“People think we don’t want change but we’re absolutely all about change because we want our team to build the customer focus and ensure the airport succeeds into the future.”

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