Bankstown Airport- Historic Origins, Bright Future

written by | October 4, 2019

Bankstown Airport:

Historic Origins;
Bright Future

Situated just 26km from the Sydney CBD, Bankstown Airport (BWU) is one of the most important aviation hubs in New South Wales. The site’s three runways and convenient location in the Canterbury-Bankstown region enables Bankstown Airport to operate 24/7. This strategic advantage makes it the airport of choice for the New South Wales aerial emergency services, with most operating from the 313-hectare site.

The airport can trace its history back to the 1920s and the dawn of the Australian aviation industry. While initial development at the site was slow, Bankstown finally saw full-scale operations during the dark days of World War II when it was developed into an essential military base in support of the war effort.

In recent decades, the airport has grown into a thriving General Aviation community and is a vital aeromedical and emergency services hub. Bankstown Airport supports some 166 businesses, injecting almost $1bn to the state economy annually, making it a major contributor to the financial health of NSW, as well as a vital player in the provision of state-wide human services.


The 1920s were pioneering years for Australia’s fledgling aviation industry. With Australian cities and towns separated by vast distances, the young nation was the perfect landscape for a boom in airport infrastructure, and in many ways it led the world in large-scale adoption of aviation services.

Lee de Winton is the Chief Executive of Sydney Metro Airports which encompasses both Bankstown and Camden Airports. She spoke with Australian Aviation in September, and told us that while the Bankstown site was identified in the 1920s, the airport saw its first major use as a Royal Australian Air Force base during World War II. “Bankstown was the home of the RAAF during World War II with various squadrons based here,” Ms de Winton commented.

“It also served as a major base of operation for the United States Army Air Forces – which led to the nickname Yankstown – while towards the end of the war the airfield was briefly under the control of the United Kingdom’s Royal Navy. So it is fair to say the airport was a significant contributor to the allied war effort. Bankstown’s status was bolstered in 1942 when Hawker de Havilland began construction of Mosquito aircraft at the airfield. The manufacture of aircraft at Bankstown enabled locals to support Australia’s war effort, while, after the war, the de Havilland plant created valuable jobs for the post-war economy. Ms de Winton elaborated: “de Havilland retained its presence at Bankstown until its acquisition by Boeing. Boeing itself continued to utilise these facilities to build component parts for Boeing 737s, 747s and 767s, and remained active at Bankstown for many years.”

During the post-war years, Bankstown’s popularity as a General Aviation hub ballooned, supported by the increasing need for flying schools, aeromedical services and local helicopter operations. The increased traffic saw the airport’s growth skyrocket, becoming Australia’s leading General Aviation facility by the 1970s.


To accommodate Bankstown Airport’s increasing popularity, the airport has maintained a steady programme of infrastructure development in the decades since the 1970s.Works included the construction of a passenger terminal and freight facilities, as well as the development and maintenance of its runways and associated taxiway systems.

Ms de Winton says the airport’s forward-thinking approach has paid off: “Today Bankstown Airport boasts three parallel runways. It is home to over 500 aircraft and handles more than 270,000 annual movements – that’s more than 700 aircraft movements per day (primarily) from our many flying schools, providing pilots for the future of Australian aviation”

As a result, Bankstown is Australia’s second busiest airport. To accommodate the volume of aircraft, it boasts its own dedicated control tower, operated by Airservices Australia, while the airport operates within Class D Airspace.

In late 2015 Bankstown underwent a notable change of ownership when First State Super acquired it, along with Camden Airport, for $203 million. With First State keen to leverage and grow both aviation and non-aviation assets at the site, experienced aviation leader Lee de Winton was appointed CEO of Sydney Metro Airports in 2017.

Bringing experience from her time as a Wing Commander in the RAAF, her prior roles also include Head of Freight Operations at Qantas Freight. As CEO, she brings a strategic multidisciplinary leadership approach to Sydney Metro Airports. The year of her appointment also saw the opening of the Toll – Aeromedical Crewing Excellence (ACE) centre at Bankstown. The facility provides unrivalled modern facilities which aid in the skill development of helicopter pilots, aircrew and specialist personnel.

As well as a Full Flight Level D AW139 Simulator, the state of the art facility boasts a Complete Aircrew Training System (CATS) as well as Helicopter Underwater Escape Training (HUET) facility with land and water winch training capabilities in the purpose-built training pool and water winching.

Now fully operational, The ACE Training Centre elevates Bankstown’s position as a leading aviation-training hub and builds on the airport’s vision to offer world-class support to emergency services in New South Wales.

Bankstown continues to expand its services in support of the New South Wales community as it approaches its 80th anniversary in 2020

This support is evident in the airport’s plans to upgrade the NSW Police Aviation Support Branch Headquarters (PolAir) based at the airfield. A $35 million investment in PolAir’s vital crime fighting capability will see the airport re-imagine PolAir’s operational base. The custom designed facility will enable PolAir to house its fleet of three fixed-wing and five rotary aircraft under one roof.

We are committed to supporting the ongoing development of world class emergency services at Bankstown Airport,” Ms de Winton said, noting that the upgraded facilities will bring improvements in efficiencies for PolAir.

“Our investment in the PolAir facility will allow this vital service to move out of its multiple, ageing facilities and combine its operations under one state of the art roof. It’s just one example of how Bankstown Airport is working hand in hand with our emergency service providers for the benefit of the New South Wales community.”

PolAir is just one of nine vital emergency services based at the airport. These range from the long-established Royal Flying Doctor Service, Airmed, and Little Wings, to a newly developed Toll/NSW Ambulance rescue helicopter service facility.

“The airport also hosts a NSW Parks and Wildlife facility, a state of the art neonatal paramedic Emergency Transport facility, aircraft maintenance organisations and over 10 flying schools” Ms. de Winton said.

“Bankstown Airport is proud to be the home to the majority of the State’s Emergency Services aviation operations while providing vital training to meet the needs of the current and forecast pilot shortage.

”At the dawn of the 2020s, Bankstown Airport remains committed to maintaining its position as a centre of excellence in aviation. It achieves this goal day in and day out by supporting its diverse ecosystem of aviation businesses.”

With the airport responsible for more than 4,500 full time local jobs, it will continue to be a major economic contributor for the Canterbury-Bankstown region for decades to come, and a vital link in the provision of aviation services for New South Wales.

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Comments (5)

  • Richard


    Lee is one of the best in the game – an insightful look at Bankstown’s storied past!

  • Rick Lightbody


    Fascinating review of the airfield. I had no idea of its history and live close by. Thx.

  • Ben


    I would be very surprised if there’s even 250 resident aircraft at YSBK; maybe there were 500 based aircraft last century, but privatisation has only brought a decline in aviation activity and an increase in non-aviation businesses.

  • John


    So concerned about aviation and history why did they close the Australian Aviation Museum? The place was forced to close and sell off all that history, the volunteers locked out. The Museum was promised to be moved to Camden for 15 years but it never happened. In my opinion its shameful. All that history sold off or scrapped.

    • Carola H.


      i agree shameful. there’s no mention of any of the small aviation companies & flying schools which is what I was interested in reading, having worked there for a short while.

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