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Monday, 28 November 2016
Page: 4614

Ms SWANSON (Paterson) (19:49): I rise tonight to speak about the great strides being made at Newcastle Airport, in my electorate of Paterson.

The airport, which is the largest regional airport in NSW, shares a runway with RAAF Base Williamtown and is jointly owned by Newcastle and Port Stephens councils. It is where I catch my flight to Canberra each Sunday afternoon before a parliamentary sitting week and where I return home on Thursday nights—usually—a little bit weary. I usually manage a nap in both directions, actually.

It is a tiny plane that I catch, but I am very, very grateful for the direct FlyPelican service, as are my Newcastle and Hunter colleagues. In fact, the pilot, Brian, and I often share a joke and a word, and last Sunday he quipped to me that if I got any closer I would have to share the responsibility of flying the little bug smasher—as they call it in the industry—with him. But without it we would need to drive to Canberra, or at least drive to Sydney and then fly to the capital.

The convenience of our airport has certainly registered with many people in Newcastle, the Hunter Valley and Port Stephens, and the October just gone was the busiest month ever on record. There were 113,907 passengers who went through the gate in October, a figure that is two per cent higher than the previous monthly record of 111,757 flyers, which was achieved in October 2010. The airport is on a trajectory to achieve 1.2 million passengers this year, but it has its sights set even higher.

I met last week with Newcastle Airport chief executive officer, Peter Cock, and chairman, Peter Gesling, and they shared with me their desire for, and commitment to, even further growth. They can see an opportunity to grow passenger numbers through Newcastle, benefiting the local region while at the same time relieving the congestion in Sydney while that city waits for its second airport. They advised that passenger traffic at Newcastle Airport has been strong since the $14.5 million terminal expansion was completed in August last year. They make a solid case that even more investment will attract even more passengers.

The growth in passenger volume is attributed to: the airlines that fly into Newcastle increasing capacity to the market; major events around the country; school holidays; and increased business travel. Each month for the past year passenger numbers have surpassed the month before. September and October saw particularly strong growth, with greater than seven per cent growth year on year. In October, the long weekend, the end of school holidays and the start of the spring racing carnival in Melbourne put plenty of bums on seats. That was really fantastic. The growth goes to show that Newcastle is now a true alternative gateway for New South Wales.

The Hunter Regional Plan 2036 identifies Newcastle Airport as a key regional asset, highlighting the importance of creating links with international markets. And how we would all love to board a flight for our overseas adventure without the palava of a trip to Sydney! Newcastle Airport has secured its long-term future by extending its lease with the Department of Defence for 60 years, with an additional three 10-year options. The longer runway being constructed by Defence and the works to accommodate the Joint Strike Fighter also boost the case for the larger passenger aircraft capacity needed for overseas travel. Work will start next year to fit out facilities and the technology required for international processing of passengers, bringing Newcastle a vital step closer to that international dream. An expanded airport will, of course, have the capacity to attract overseas visitors, support population growth in our region and support the key areas of health and education—fields in which our region is a centre of national excellence. In addition to attracting the domestic and overseas tourist dollar, the airport has the capacity for value-added freight exports to the hungry markets of Asia and the Pacific.

With increasing constraints in Sydney, Newcastle Airport has the opportunity to complement our city and further enable the growth of New South Wales. With its sights set on the Pacific, New Zealand and Asia, expansion will provide enhanced connectivity and create a true global gateway right into our own backyard. That would be very welcome.