Leading Brisbane:
Gert-Jan de Graaff, Brisbane Airport Corporation

Brisbane Airport Corporation CEO and member of BEDA’s Better Brisbane Alliance, Gert-Jan de Graaff, sat down with Driving Brisbane to talk about how BAC’s exciting $5b Future BNE Program will serve Brisbane’s rapidly growing population, the impact of major events like NRL Magic Round on the airport and city, and what’s contributing to Brisbane’s incredible growth beyond air travel.



Brisbane Airport now operates direct flights to 31 international destinations, recently announcing a new non-stop weekly service between Brisbane and the Pacific Island nation of Palau. How significant is this growth? How do BAC and partners decide which new routes get priority?

Brisbane is a gateway for the South Pacific, now with 14 destinations in the region, more than any other Australian airport. It means Brisbane plays a unique role as a city in supporting our Pacific neighbours, and this is recognised by the Commonwealth Government’s support of this new service to Palau. The flight will provide direct connection between Queensland and Palau opening up trade and tourism opportunities as well as providing residents with access to services that are not available in Palau.

Our job is to connect Brisbane and Queensland to the world and that means we continuously work to evaluate opportunities that help link people together. It’s not necessarily about assigning priority but looking for opportunities where everyone benefits from the connection of two destinations.

An additional 25,400 domestic passengers were estimated to travel through Brisbane Airport as result of Taylor Swift concerts in Sydney and Melbourne earlier this year. How do mega events like this benefit Brisbane and how does BAC rise to the challenge?

Brisbane Airport undertakes tactical forecasting for these events and uses this information to adjust resource levels at our terminals to ensure a seamless travel experience for passengers. We saw another great example of it earlier this month with NRL Magic Round Brisbane, where thousands of NRL fans from across the country and New Zealand flew into Brisbane. Those fans were greeted in the Domestic Terminal by Magic Round activations and their team’s colours – so we ensured their experience of Brisbane started the minute they stepped foot off the plane. Events like this are essential for elevating Brisbane’s reputation as an event destination.

The State of the City Report reveals Brisbane’s population has grown faster than any other major Australian capital city over the past 10 years, by almost 21% since 2013. Helping to service our growing population, Brisbane Airport is undertaking a $5 billion Future BNE transformation. What does this airport upgrade mean for Brisbane? What innovations are being incorporated?

The $5b Future BNE Program incorporates more than 150 projects across the airport precinct – from terminal upgrades to new roads, expanded industrial capacity, stronger security measures, better parking options and new retail precincts. As our population grows, and in the lead up to the 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games, new infrastructure and region-shaping projects will supercharge the economy and we’re ensuring our airport is properly equipped to deal with those developments. We’re investing to better connect Queensland to the world, to make travel safe, secure and seamless, to be a leader in sustainability and to make it easier for industries across the state to do business. Our vision at Brisbane Airport is to “connect the world, create the future” and that is certainly what Future BNE is focussed on.

Brisbane’s global reputation is gaining momentum as the city gears up to host the 2032 Brisbane Olympic and Paralympic Games, while the State of the City Report shows Brisbane’s experience economy is in higher demand than ever before. How does BAC plan to leverage this opportunity?

Brisbane Airport is deeply aware that it will be the first “hello” and the last “goodbye” for all who visit in 2032, whether that be spectators, athletes, officials, media and visiting heads of state. The BNE team is working with our airline and tourism partners to ensure momentum continues and builds towards the Games, and beyond. Brisbane’s role in hosting the Olympic and Paralympic Games is certainly a discussion point whenever we meet with airlines across the globe. Soon we will see Delta Air Lines and American Airlines begin services to Brisbane for the first time. I have no doubt Brisbane’s role as an Olympic and Paralympic city has played a role in attracting these major carriers.

Brisbane is on an exciting trajectory. As a business leader, what do you think is contributing to the city's growth (looking beyond air travel)?

Population growth has been a key driver of business over the past few years. We expect the South-East Queensland region to grow to six million people by 2046, with Brisbane at its heart. That, coupled with a strong economy, has created huge opportunity right across the State which in itself is driving a lot of growth. Additionally, hosting the 2032 Brisbane Olympic and Paralympic Games is playing a role, as is Brisbane and Queensland’s amazing lifestyle, weather and natural beauty. Brisbane is the best city in the world to live, work and visit!

Better Brisbane Alliance

What do you hope to achieve with your involvement in the Better Brisbane Alliance?

Anything we can do, as an alliance, to enhance Brisbane’s reputation for business, investment and visitation will be good for the city and good for its people. We have something unique in Brisbane and that is a collaborative approach, and it really elevates what we can offer to businesses considering relocating here. It’s the same at Brisbane Airport. We are a vital economic and employment enabler, not just here, but right across the state. One in 70 Queensland jobs are at or enabled by BNE. We play a critical role in industries including tourism, resources, agriculture, healthcare, communications and defence – just to name a few. When we work together as an alliance, we can unlock region and city shaping benefits for the region.

Gert-Jan de Graff sitting in the Brisbane airport.
Gert-Jan de Graaff, Brisbane Airport Corporation CEO

On a personal note

What’s the best business advice you were ever given?

When I was appointed in my first leadership role, my leader shared that the basis of being successful (in business) is: respect, create value, have fun! This is still my personal motto.

Best business book?

Managing airport management is all about solving problems and bottlenecks. The book “The Goal” by Goldratt and Cox explores this in a fast-paced thriller style. I have read it at least five times and bought copies to inspire team members at all the airports I’ve worked at across four continents.

Favourite Brisbane restaurant?

There are of course plenty of restaurants at the airport I can recommend, but our favourite Brisbane restaurant is Beccofino. We have been regulars there for over 15 years.

Describe your ideal Sunday

The best Sunday is a Sunday without obligations… but even then, a must do is exploring Brisbane, I love a good walk and there is always something to check out, to see, to visit or to experience in this city.

Brisbane City