Not content with spending more than $100 million to build Australia’s first airport in 44 years, BRW Rich Family the Wagners are also bidding to construct the $1.7 billion road project which could make it a serious competitor to Brisbane Airport - BRW, Michael Bailey Deputy editor, Published 11 February 2014

Wagner family builds major airport in 18 they want to build the $1.7bn road to it too

Feb 11, 2014

Wagners chairman John Wagner, on the runway at his family’s Brisbane West Wellcamp Airport.

Not content with spending more than $100 million to build Australia’s first airport in 44 years, BRW Rich Family the Wagners are also bidding to construct the $1.7 billion road project which could make it a serious competitor to Brisbane Airport.

With the final rock fill base at Brisbane West Wellcamp Airport set for completion this week, Wagners chairman John Wagner - one of four founding brothers of the 25-year old Toowoomba-based construction and logistics company - says the 2.87 kilometre runway will host its first commercial flight by October, meeting an 18 month deadline from the start of construction that “nobody in the aviation industry believed we could do”.

That initial scepticism is one reason no major airline has yet committed to flying into the airport, which is 20 kilometres south-west of Toowoomba and 130 kilometres west of Brisbane’s CBD.

The airport’s general manager, Phil Gregory, says negotiations with Qantas and Virgin are “well advanced”, and although airlines are more inclined to cut routes than add them at present, he’s confident that the numbers in Toowoomba will stack up for the carriers.

“There were 1.87 million visitors to Toowoomba in 2013, 10 per cent of all the tourist arrivals into Queensland came to our region, and they all drove in,” he says.

The Wagners are expecting ‘regular public transport’ to underpin Wellcamp Airport, however former Qantas chief economist turned aviation consultant, Tony Webber, suspects it will struggle for inbound tourism traffic compared to the likes of the nearby Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast airports.

“But they have over 300,000 people in the catchment area, which tends to be the minimum base of potential outbound passengers you need before the airlines will consider flying there,” he says.

Another factor in the Wagner’s favour is the tendency for new, “immature” routes to be more profitable than existing routes “which have been flogged to death”.

Speculating that mid-sized A320 or Boeing 737 jets would be most suitable for a Toowoomba route, Webber suspects the major airlines may look at reallocating some capacity from existing routes into Brisbane, or from the “basket case” long-haul leisure routes into the Northern Territory.

The major airlines tend to review their slots and set them for the next six months in April, Gregory says, but even if no immediate commitment is forthcoming, the airport already has business sewn up from mining companies servicing the surrounding Surat, Gallilee, Bowen and Cooper basins.

“You should see the queues of little 10-seaters full of FIFO workers, waiting to get out of [the existing] Toowoomba airport in the morning - we’re going to be able to provide a much safer and more economical solution to the mining companies,” Gregory says, adding Wellcamp sits 600 feet lower than Toowoomba airport and is much less prone to fog.

Wagner says freight to Asia - “fresh produce, live cattle, chilled beef” - from the surrounding agricultural region will also underpin demand for Wellcamp.


The family got the idea for building the airport in 2010, when Wagners started designing a business park on its 5000-acre landholding at Wellcamp, just west of Toowoomba.

“We were getting questions from potential tenants, global companies, about why would we want to invest in Toowoomba when there’s no connectivity, no airport?” he remembers.

The town’s existing aerodrome, owned by the local council, is only capable of taking planes up to the size of a Bombardier Dash 8 100, which can carry about 30 passengers. Single daily flights are offered to Sydney and Melbourne.

“So you’ve got the second-biggest inland city in Australia, a catchment area of 344,000 people, and essentially it’s got no airport,” Wagner says.

“We felt the airport would be a good anchor for our business park, although we’d like to think it will eventually be the bigger business.”

The Wagners are hopeful of a major fillip for their airport from the Toowoomba Second Range Crossing, the largest inland road project ever undertaken in Australia, which will cut travelling time from Wellcamp airport to the Brisbance CBD from 2 hours to 1 hour 20 minutes.

“It will mean our airport is as close to people in Brisbane’s western suburbs as Brisbane airport is and they can get to us with no tolls. It will add a couple of hundred thousand people to our catchment area,” says Gregory. Wellcamp currently has the 11th largest catchment area population of any Australian airport - the Second Range Crossing “would take us well into the top 10”.

Wagners is among the private sector bidders to build the ambitious road through the Great Dividing Range, which is due to commence in 2015 and be completed in 2018.


The 18-month construction period for Wellcamp airport would amaze many, particularly Sydneysiders who have been promised a second major airport since the Whitlam era.

“It helps that we’re building the airport ourselves on our own land, so there was no need for a tender process and all the decisions can get made pretty quickly,” Wagner says.

Somewhat controversially, the airport proposal was approved by Toowoomba Regional Council just days in advance of new rules which would have required it to undergo a full environmental assessment.

However Wagner points out the previous rules had been “in place a long time” and that beating the new regime had “probably saved us two years and $5 million”.

The 10 million tonnes of rock required by the airport all came from the Wagner’s two quarries within the same landholding, “so the social cost of building it has been nothing - if you divide that by the average truck capacity of 30 tonnes, it means about 333,000 trucks have been kept off the region’s roads”, Wagner says.

The construction veteran says it’s “a blot on Australia” that there’s been no new major airport here since Tullamarine opened in 1970 - “but we’ve proven it doesn’t have to take that long”.

Wagner hopes that the airport will be turning an operating profit within a handful of years, but he’s realistic about the time it will take to make back the “well north of $100 million” the family has spent building the facility and its adjoining business park.

“This is a multi-generation investment for us,” he says.

Michael Bailey Deputy editor, BRW

Published 11 February 2014 12:36, Updated 12 February 2014 08:53