NSW Wheelchair Rugby League

Players from the New South Wales (NSW) Wheelchair Rugby League will act as accessibility consultants during the development of Western Sydney Airport. Image via NSW Wheelchair Rugby League

Western Sydney Airport is teaming up with NSW Wheelchair Rugby League players to make sure the airport is accessible to travelers with disabilities.

Construction at the site of Western Sydney Airport in Australia only broke ground September last year, but officials at the airport are already laying the groundwork for a bid to become the one of the world’s most accessible air travel hubs.

Western Sydney Airport timeline

Image via Western Sydney Airport

Last week airport representatives announced a sponsorship agreement with the New South Wales (NSW) Wheelchair Rugby League that will see players act as accessibility consultants during development. In Australia, approximately 18.3 percent of the population has one or more disability.

“We want to go over and above our legislative requirements when it comes to accessibility,” said Graham Millett, chief executive officer of Western Sydney Airport. “The NSW Wheelchair Rugby League will be a key reference group for the airport’s design team during these early stages of planning to ensure we optimize accessibility for travelers of all abilities.”

The airport has put a competitive tender out for terminal design, asking architectural firms to make accessibility a priority in proposed bids. Located in the Badgerys Creek suburb of Sydney, the first stage of the airport is to open in 2026 with a capacity for 10 million annual passengers. By the 2060s, the airport expects to accommodate up to 82 million travelers.

“This is a very astute move by Western Sydney Airport,” said Chris Wood, founder of Flying Disabled, an air travel accessibility campaign group. “Future proofing inclusive design accessibility in an airport is crucial to avoid costly retrofits,” he continued. “Additionally, airport staff who assist passengers with reduced mobility will find inclusive design makes their tasks far more effective.”

APEX Insider is made possible by the support of Global Eagle.

Ramps and lifts will likely be key features of the successful design bid. But Wood suggests planners develop multiple solutions in the event of high traffic periods or service breakdowns. “All design must also reach out to car parks, so the passenger has full continuity when arriving,” he said.

The airport’s decision to partner with professional wheelchair athletes wasn’t only based on physical capability. “These players have unique and important insight into accessibility and mobility at airports around the world, and we are keen to hear about their experiences,” says a spokesperson for Western Sydney Airport. In addition to consulting with NSW Wheelchair Rugby League players – who likely have more upper body strength than average wheelchair users – airport officials are also actively engaged with regulators and a wide range of stakeholders, including a recently appointed Aboriginal Advisory Team.

Upon its completion, Western Sydney Airport is expected to shoulder a significant portion of the 87 million passengers forecasted to travel to the Sydney region by 2035. Despite its 11 p.m.– 6 a.m. operations curfew, intended to limit airport noise, Sydney Airport is Australia’s busiest hub, serving 44.4 million travelers in 2018. Western Sydney Airport will operate 24/7, and has secured operations commitments from Virgin Australia, Qantas, and Jetstar.