The federal government has revealed that Newcastle Airport will be a big winner in Tuesday's budget, announcing in Williamtown that $66 million will be dedicated to upgrade the runway to international standards.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison made the pre-budget announcement at Newcastle Airport on Friday morning - his fourth visit to the Hunter in the past eight months.
The long-awaited project to upgrade the runway to Code E status will allow the Williamtown-based airport to cater for larger international aircraft including Boeing 787s and Airbus A330s.
Newcastle Airport CEO Dr Peter Cock said the upgrade was a game-changer for the region.
"Attracting this funding has been the result of a huge effort from the entire region. The support we have received from all sectors of our community in advocating for this project has been extraordinary," he said.
"Now we can focus on the potential that this infrastructure upgrade will unleash. It will permanently change our region for the better in so many ways.
"Of course, it will offer convenience for travellers from our region who want to fly internationally. But more importantly, it will drive huge, sustainable economic benefits into the whole of northern NSW.
"From local tourism operators and hospitality owners to agricultural producers and freight and logistics providers, this project will drive significant jobs and economic return for generations to come."
As a stand-alone project, a Code E upgrade would cost the airport a minimum of $150 million.
But done in conjunction with Williamtown RAAF Base's $115 million airfield maintenance project, due to begin in June 2021, the "efficiencies gained and money saved are huge", Dr Cock said.
The Code E civilian runway upgrade project, regarded as the region's top infrastructure priority, is expected to create 4500 jobs and generate an estimated $12.7 billion in economic benefits through international airfreight, industrial expansion and increased tourism traffic in the next 20 years.
Paterson MP Meryl Swanson, the Shadow Assistant Minister for Defence, said she was glad to see a good result from "unrelenting pressure" on the government to fund the runway upgrade.
"At the 11th hour, the government has committed to this vital project, and the region couldn't be happier," she said.
"The announcement ensures the future of the visitor economy, it will generate considerable freight activity and ensure opportunities that will deliver significant jobs and growth to Australia's largest regional economy.
"Not only will this project have wide-reaching impacts across our region's economy, it will guarantee the future of multiple sectors and allow Williamtown to become a Defence powerhouse."
Port Stephens Mayor Ryan Palmer said the runway upgrade would open the airport's ability to drive transformational change.
"Port Stephens already has a well-established international brand and a Code E runway will bring key markets directly to our doorstep, fast-tracking our economic growth," he said.
"For Port Stephens, this means more employment opportunities for locals, more opportunities for our businesses to expand and thrive, and more investment in our infrastructure. This announcement unlocks the potential of our region and will secure the economic growth of Port Stephens for generations to come."
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