Uplifting Opportunities

Samantha Martin-Williams, a Director for both the SCLAA and Newcastle Airport, discusses the success of Newcastle Airport, and how projected upgrades to it and the region will boost connectivity and the region’s supply chain capabilities. 

As challenging as the conditions of the last couple of years have been, they have also served to prompt new thinking and tap into previously unrealised potential across the nation. Amid the tumult of the past 18 months, the resilience and diversification of Newcastle Airport’s is a shining example. 

With a global pandemic continuing to wreak havoc on national and global economies, the aviation sector has been harder hit than most. Despite this, Newcastle Airport emerged with a best-in-class recovery in passenger numbers, and a stronger, more diversified, and more valuable business. Its aspirations are bolder and its influence greater, cementing its role as a regional leader that will shape the future growth of the Hunter and northern NSW, including in the freight and logistics sector.  

Significantly, in May this year, the Prime Minister announced $66 million in funding to upgrade the airfield at Newcastle Airport, which is a Federal Defence asset. This upgrade, to be completed by late 2023 will see the airfield attain Code E status, allowing wide-bodied, long-haul aircraft to utilise the port. 

Complementing this infrastructure upgrade is the development of a Special Activation Precinct (SAP) at Williamtown, which will have the airport at its core. This SAP is one of six in regional NSW and was announced after extensive advocacy from the airport in conjunction with key regional organisations. The SAP comes with significant government investment and a fast-tracked planning regime to drive economic outcomes for the state.  

The NSW Government has committed to spending $1billion on the six SAPs it has announced across NSW. This indicates government investment in Williamtown in the order of $100million-plus over the course of the development. The Williamtown precinct is also expected to generate 5000-plus highly skilled jobs. While many of these will be in the Defence and aerospace sector, there is no doubt that demand for freight out of Newcastle Airport will lead to supply chain growth.

These significant government announcements are true game changers for northern NSW, unlocking huge potential and possibilities. Modelling undertaken by the airport indicates an economic benefit of $12.7 billion to the region over the 20-year life of the runway. Of this, $6.5billion will be derived from increased freight activity. 

Investing in Williamtown and the upgraded runway also supports the NSW Government’s Hunter Regional Plan, which positions the Port of Newcastle and Newcastle Airport as global gateways, through improved interregional links and infrastructure for freight movements as a key goal. 

The Federal Government’s funding commitment, coupled with the NSW State Government’s announcement of a Special Activation Precinct will see Williamtown well placed to drive the region’s evolution to one of our nation’s key freight and export hubs. Some of the export opportunities that will present themselves seem clear, given the proximity of the Port Stephens-based airport to aquaculture, beef, and mining technology industries – to name a few. However, it is the opportunities that are not yet apparent that harbour most potential.  

In terms of freight projections, there is the potential, based on existing production levels, for a total of 20,519 tonnes of freight to be exported through Newcastle Airport annually, at a total value of approximately $2.1 billion. Considering the expected stimulation driven by international connectivity this is predicted to rise further to potentially 48,700 tonnes, valued at $4.7 billion, by 2039. 

To further flesh out these opportunities and the catalytic growth that will come with international connectivity, Newcastle Airport has been a driving force behind the organisation of a regional Summit to be held in early 2022. A collaborative effort, this Summit will be driven by the 10 local Hunter Councils and draw on the skills of the University of Newcastle, Hunter Business Chamber, and Committee for the Hunter. It will connect key industry representatives along with Federal, State and Local Government agencies and development organisations. Its intent is to embed a united regional approach to driving practical outcomes on the back of the airport’s capacity enhancement.  

Samantha (Sam) Martin-Williams is a Director of both the Supply Chain and Logistics Association of Australia (SCLAA) and Newcastle Airport (NAPL) and has previously worked as General Manager and Company Secretary of the Hunter Valley Coal Chain Coordinator.