Gert-Jan de Graaff, CEO of Brisbane Airport Corporation, discusses the company’s motivations behind crafting a world-leading sustainable airport city, ahead of his speech at Passenger Terminal Conference 2023. In his presentation, the executive will consider the 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Brisbane, Australia’s biodiversity and the steps taken to build an airport city that will reshape the future of aviation.
Please describe your presentation.
Brisbane Airport is Australia’s third busiest airport, in one of the most aviation-reliant nations on the planet. Everyday aviation helps overcome remoteness to deliver economic prosperity and healthcare, and connects our communities to the world. But how can a busy airport in a remote corner of the Earth become a sustainability leader? To explore this topic, I’ll be speaking about our journey to becoming a world-leading sustainable airport city. For Brisbane Airport Corporation, this means tackling our emissions, working with our partners to reduce theirs, and developing alliances and partnerships with industry to reshape the future of aviation.
How can Australia’s airports leverage the country’s reliance on aviation to advance their sustainability goals?
Australia is the sixth largest country in the world and almost the size of Europe, but with 1/30th of Europe’s population, which is concentrated in coastal pockets. Unlike other countries, Australia lacks high-speed rail and vast freeways to connect the sparsely populated interior. On a flight from Brisbane to Perth covering 3,600km, the largest city you would fly over is home to just 125,000 people. Many outback farms are the size of European cities. Air transport is therefore essential to overcome the tyranny of distance. It is why both Qantas and the Royal Flying Doctor Service were founded in our state Queensland a century ago. Today, the need to overcome the barrier of distance remains just as critical. So that reliance is driving us to find sustainability solutions, because quite frankly, our communities need us to.
What are the most important areas for an airport to focus on to increase its sustainability?
Like every business, our first responsibility is to clean up our own backyard. So, we were early adopters of solar generation in the airport. We also converted to an all-electric bus fleet to move passengers and employees around our precinct. Recently, we signed an agreement to purchase 100% renewable energy from 2025, allowing us to meet our renewed sustainability goals. But this is just the start. Now we’re working with more than 400 businesses at our airport to tackle Scope 3 emissions. Broader than that, we’re engaging with industry partners to create a fertile environment for innovation to solve some of the bigger environmental challenges presented by aviation.
How are the 2032 Olympics factoring into Brisbane Airport’s strategy?
During the Brisbane 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games, Brisbane Airport will play an important role as both the first hello and last goodbye for those attending and participating in the games. We know from the International Olympic Committee’s point of view, they want 2032 to be a climate-positive games. But to be very honest with you, the sustainability decisions we are taking today are about delivering changes now and for decades into the future, well beyond the games. These are decisions we would be taking regardless to protect Australia’s breathtaking biodiversity, including one of the seven wonders of the natural world, The Great Barrier Reef.
What makes a sustainable world-leading airport city?
For us, it’s building an airport city that generations of the people of Brisbane can be proud of. It’s an airport that connects them to the world while having as light a touch on that world as possible. It’s about creating an airport that looks after its local environment, supports its community and grows responsibly. At Brisbane Airport, we have locked away 285 hectares of land as a biodiversity zone to protect the environment. We’re now investigating how we can rehabilitate this area to be used as a carbon removal project and enhance biodiversity at the same time.
To hear more valuable industry insights from top aviation executives, be sure to book a conference pass to Passenger Terminal Conference, which will be held on March 14, 15 and 16, in Amsterdam, Netherlands.