Newcastle Airport needs to secure $65 million by early next year to upgrade its runway – or face waiting another 20 years for the next chance to operate flights further afield than New Zealand.
The airport missed out on securing government help in this week’s federal budget but has to get an alternative deal across the line in the next few months so its work can coincide with a separate upgrade being carried out by the RAAF, which owns and manages the strip.
Should the deadline be missed, Newcastle would likely have to wait until the next RAAF upgrade in circa 2040.
Newcastle predicts the project would generate 4,400 full-time jobs and allow it to accommodate long-range, wide-bodied planes that can fly further afield than Australia or New Zealand.
Despite the budget snub, the business said it remains “hopeful” it would be able to access funding from a larger pool of money earmarked for airport infrastructure.
“I have a sense of confidence that the government has a positive vision for our region, which was demonstrated by the Prime Minister’s recent visit,” said chief executive Dr Peter Cock. “Ours is the largest regional economy in Australia and the airport is ready to step up and play a key role in ensuring it remains so.
“Importantly, the window of opportunity for this upgrade is now. The funding needs to be confirmed before the next budget cycle, with a drop-dead date in the first quarter of next year.
“With that in mind, we will be working hard and engaging with other regional leaders to put together a compelling case as to why this project should be top on the list of projects to be funded.
“Doing so will ultimately add $12 billion to the regional economy and provide 4,000 full-time jobs. That is a huge amount of potential that is currently untapped.”
The project would cost $65 million in addition to the $115 million upgrade that the Department of Defence is undertaking, and would start work in June 2021 for completion in November 2022.
The news comes a month after Newcastle Airport said it would have no choice but to stand down workers – despite the business not being eligible to receive and pass on JobKeeper payments.
Australian Aviation understands the company can’t claim for the handout because of its local government ownership structure, which mirrors a similar situation faced by Victoria’s busiest regional airport, Mildura.
Dr Cock said then, “This is something we hoped we would never need to consider, however, the ongoing economic impact of closed borders has made our situation untenable.”
The JobKeeper package was introduced to provide coronavirus-effected business with an initial $1,500 per employee, per fortnight.
Companies are then legally obliged to pass that payment onto workers in a bid to keep the economy active during the pandemic. However, the scheme has proved problematic for much of the aviation industry.
Many airport workers, such as those at Newcastle, are locked out of the financial package because their firms are council-owned; while staff at dnata were similarly told they were no longer eligible because their company is owned by a foreign government.