As Australia embarks on its first publicly-funded airport project in more than three decades with Western Sydney Airport in Badgerys Creek, there are lessons and insights to be taken from the US experiences of airport cities.

The stated ambition of the federal, state and local governments is to create an aerotropolis around the new facility, which will later be sold to a private entity. There is a twin consideration to both create employment around the site, but also to create value in the asset ahead of a future sale.

Looking at US examples, it is possible to draw some conclusions about the path these Australian governments should tread if they are to emulate any of the experiences of US cities in using airports as economic drivers.

It is important to recognise fundamental structural differences between the US air transport landscape and that found in Australia. In addition to a smaller population base and having airports largely in private hands, Australia also faces challenges in achieving the critical mass required for efficient air freight. Furthermore, some of the industries targeted for growth in the airport precinct — notably defence aerospace — rely on supply chains and prime manufacturing capabilities that do not exist in Australia.

Despite these considerations, there are a number of recommendations that government should heed in ensuring that Western Sydney Airport is able to achieve its maximum economic potential.

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