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Williamtown positions itself for innovation in defence and aviation

The finished 76-hectare precinct will host a number of Defence Prime Contractors and SMEs looking to establish a footprint within the Williamtown Special Activation Precinct. Stage 1 leasing opportunities include a commercial hub, advanced manufacturing and industrial facilities (top), plus a defence, aerospace and innovation hub. Photo: Newcastle Airport Pty Limited

Newcastle’s Williamtown Airport is positioning itself to play a key role in delivering and sustaining both Defence combat power and SMEs looking to establish a footprint within the Williamtown Special Activation Precinct. Stage 1 leasing opportunities include a commercialregional logistics. Williamtown is already host to the RAAF’s F-35A Lightning II fighters, Hawk 127 Lead-In Fighter Trainers and E-7A Wedgetail Airborne Early Warning & Control (AEW&C) aircraft, along with their critical sustainment facilities.

To capitalise on the presence of these aircraft and Defence’s focus on establishing a robust, sovereign industry base, the Airport has established the Astra Aerolab, a 76-hectare development precinct designed to deliver world class sustainment and manufacturing capability to the Defence sector. Astra Aerolab is a multi-million dollar project funded by the Commonwealth and NSW Governments and the airport’s two owners, the City of Newcastle and Port Stephens Council.

“With the Federal Government forecasting an increase of $270 billion Defence spend nationally over the next decade and a key focus on sovereign capability, there has never been a better opportunity for Australian businesses in the defence sector,” says Newcastle Airport Pty Limited CEO, Dr Peter Cock.

The Hunter has a rich history supporting Australia’s defence industry, he says, and the NSW Government’s Special Activation Precinct at Williamtown is the next strategic step in bringing the defence, aerospace, education and training sectors together. The Williamtown Precinct is one of six Special Activation Precincts across NSW and it will provide significant economic benefit to the region through increased jobs and opportunities to grow capability in the Hunter.

The thing that makes the Special Activation Precinct unique is a streamlined planning approval process for businesses that are looking to establish a presence at Williamtown, which is becoming the state’s premier location for defence, aerospace and innovation.

At the heart of the Williamtown Special Activation Precinct is Astra Aerolab, a world-class aerospace and defence hub.

Newcastle Airport CEO Dr Peter Cock said the 76-hectare development precinct, co-located with RAAF Base Williamtown and Newcastle Airport, is designed to enhance Australia’s ability to deliver world-class sustainment and manufacturing capability to the Defence sector.

“Astra’s Williamtown location offers unprecedented airside access to the growing RAAF combat fleet, including the F-35A Lightning Strike Fighter, and we sit adjacent to key defence industry primes including Boeing, BAE Systems and Lockheed Martin.

“Astra Aerolab is focussed on uplifting both businesses and individuals. It’s a truly global precinct that is designed to take people and businesses higher,” he added. “Importantly, this will lead to the creation of regional jobs, not just in defence and aerospace, but in advanced manufacturing, freight and logistics.

“This will ensure the attraction and retention of highly skilled workers to the region, with an estimated 5,000 new jobs to be created from the development of the precinct.”

Prior to Covid-19, he added, Newcastle Airport contributed more than $1.16 billion to the State’s economy each year, including $300 million direct to the visitor economy which supported over 5,700 full-time employees across tourism and the Airport cluster.

The Astra Aerolab and Newcastle Airport team took advantage of May’s INDO PACIFIC 2022 International Maritime Exposition in Sydney. They joined over 700 participating exhibitors at the event and engaged with a range of Defence Primes, SMEs and Government representatives on how to take their people and businesses higher at Williamtown.

In early June, Astra Aerolab and Newcastle Airport sponsored Business Hunter’s inaugural Powering Business 2050 Summit and Hunter Nexus event. At the Summit, Dr Cock and the Chair of Hunter Defence Taskforce, Air Commodore Tim Owen AM, joined facilitator Kristi Jorgensen from Regional Growth NSW Development Corporation for the defence stream panel discussion “A precinct approach to industrial workforce development: Astra Aerolab as an exemplar.”

The Hunter Nexus event in late-June focussed on the triple helix approach to innovation, an articulation between three actors: the university, the private sector, and the government, with the aim of generating regional development in the area of innovation. Williamtown Airport sponsored this event as it sees Astra Aerolab as the catalyst and ‘place’ to help this concept come to life by creating innovative ecosystems on site. The University of Newcastle’s Integrated Innovation Network (I2N) operates a satellite location at Williamtown and the Airport is looking to establish its defence, education and innovation hub within the Astro Aerolab.

Diversification into new and emerging industries is also on the horizon for the Greater Hunter Region as 2050 inches closer, with forecast growth in the air, sea and space domains, as well as the education and health sectors.

The battle for skilled and talented people to work in the careers of the future is already emerging as a key challenge, said Dr Cock.

“In a post-lockdown world, it is not just about who an employee works for, but where they work and how they can explore their potential and elevate performance in a place that takes them higher.

“Astra Aerolab is a precinct that focuses on people, offering an outstanding lifestyle, underpinned by a place which unlocks innovation excellence. The introduction of a defence, aerospace and innovation hub will ensure education is a hallmark at Astra Aerolab. It will enable opportunities to partner with world leading researchers and education institutions to develop new ways to elevate human performance.

The 2022 Hunter Defence Conference, running from August 31 through to September 2, will also look at how, at a regional level, we upskill industry workforce to meet these increased opportunities to increase our sovereign industrial capabilities. Platinum sponsored by Astra Aerolab and Newcastle Airport, the event will provide an unmatched opportunity for established, new and emerging defence industries, businesses, advisers and investors to leverage Australia’s Defence thought leaders and converge on new markets and prospects for growth.

Earlier this year Newcastle Airport strengthened its Board with the appointment of two new non-executive Directors, former Telstra Australia Businesswoman of the Year Lee de Winton and Air Vice Marshal (Ret) Neil Hart AM, who bring with them skills spanning aviation, Defence, space, and national security.

Their arrival is well-timed, said Dr Cock, as Newcastle Airport moves towards global connectivity with $55 million Federal funding recently announced for its international terminal upgrade.

“Lee and Neil’s experience will be invaluable in contributing to the long-term success of Astra Aerolab and the wider aerospace precinct,” he said.

On the ground, works have commenced on two pocket parks on the Astra Aerolab site including formal landscaping, seating, shelter, lighting and BBQ facilities. This place activation will provide an uplifting foundation for the first commercial building on site, with construction due to start later this year. Alternative commercial space options for prospective tenants looking for a bespoke build are also available, with the first stage of the Astra Aerolab development delivering 9.5 hectares of B7 Business Park Zone sub-division land lots.

For further information please go to the Astra Aerolab site.

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