Institute for Transport Studies (ITS)

Australia Country Profile

By Rico Merkert, PhD in Transport Economics (2006-2009)

Fergus Tate

While being a Marie Curie Research Fellow at the Institute for Transport Studies (ITS) at the University of Leeds, I undertook and received a PhD in rail transport economics. In addition to the excellent supervision and extremely international environment at ITS, I very much enjoyed the opportunities of visiting other countries as part of my PhD project (most notably VTI in Sweden and Hass Business School in California, US). After graduating from ITS, I have taught at various high profile institutions including Cranfield University, where I was a Lecturer in Air Transport Economics and Management and Head of the Centre for Air Transport in Remoter Regions, before joining ITLS/The University of Sydney Business School in March 2012.

As Senior Lecturer in Aviation Management at the Institute of Transport and Logistics Studies (ITLS) at The University of Sydney Business School, I am currently coordinating and teaching three units (Aviation Management and Logistics; International Freight Transportation; Aviation Case Studies and Simulation). My role at ITLS also includes being Deputy Director of the Graduate Program and convenor of the ITLS Leadership and Policy Seminar Series.

Most of my current projects focus on the efficient management of airlines, the management of various elements of the aviation value chain as well as benchmarking and cost efficiency analysis of airlines and airports. On top of that I am still involved in research projects and papers on management and economics of railways. The techniques and the vast background on rail economics that I was able to acquire at ITS (during my PhD) are very useful in that respect but perhaps more important are the networks and the on-going collaboration that I still have with my ITS supervisors and many other colleagues and friends at ITS. Meeting them at various international conferences (e.g. TRB in Washington or Thredbo in South Africa or Oxford) is not only useful for keeping those networks and the exchange of ideas alive but also always brings back fond memories of the great time I had at the University of Leeds. I am further proud to be the official ITS Leeds contact in Australia when it comes to TimTam biscuits ;)

As a result of the vast distances in Australia, transport has always played an important role in this country. Like most modern countries, congestion in and around the large cities (i.e. Sydney and Melbourne), inadequate airport capacity and the increasingly difficult freight task (strong growth potentially slowed down by inadequate infrastructure) all contribute to Australia facing challenges in terms of productivity and competitiveness in the Asia/Pacific region. Building a globally competitive nation within a region that is showing the highest growth rates and prosperity remains a major focus.

In the Sydney area the currently most important project is probably the construction of the 33-kilometre WestConnex motorway which will link Sydney's west with the airport and the Port Botany precinct (including the M4 extension and duplication of the M5 East). There is also a major rail project underway for creating a rail freight inland corridor. Feasibility studies for a 2nd Sydney airport and a high speed rail link connecting the centres along the east coast of Australia are also hot topics but far from being implemented at this point in time. In addition there are investments going into large rail freight infrastructure (i.e. iron ore line connecting the mines in the Pilbara with Port Headland), into port infrastructure, into motorways and to some extend also into airport infrastructure. This is all part of the growth story (both in terms of the economy and population) of Australia.

To learn how to work in an international environment and strong quantitative skills in transportation management/economics are two key strengths of ITS Leeds (and also of ITLS Sydney) which I see as important for graduates who aim to excel in the competitive Australian market.

My advice to people considering a job in Australia is always to make sure that they join a frequent flyer program even before flying out for the job interviews. More seriously, if you get the chance, do it. In addition to the great weather, the fantastic nature and endless travel destinations, there are many business and career opportunities here in Australia. It is also important to understand that in today’s globalized world, moving to Australia does not necessarily mean that this has to be the final destination as a few years down under are usually a fantastic springboard for future career opportunities across the globe (although it easy to see why so many people chose to stay here indefinitely).

My favourite transport related fact about Australia is that over 99% of international passengers to and from Australia are carried by air, which very nicely illustrates the importance of aviation to this part of the world.