Eyes on bigger picture

Bright future: Newcastle Airport CEO Peter Cock is optimistic about growth, with overseas destinations still in sight. Pictures: Max Mason-Hubers

Bright future: Newcastle Airport CEO Peter Cock is optimistic about growth, with overseas destinations still in sight. Pictures: Max Mason-Hubers

It’s what everyone wants to know, when will we be able to fly overseas from Newcastle Airport?

Direct international flights will definitely make travel to some destinations easier and I would love nothing more than to be able to give you a definitive answer, but it’s not totally within our control.

We need to bring an airline partner on board. What I can tell you is that we’re doing everything we can to bring more services to our region.

The fact is we’re competing against every Australian airport wanting airlines to fly into their airport and it’s a very competitive market. Airlines make their decisions based on aircraft availability and market demand.

Flying overseas from Newcastle has been on the cards for years. What still needs to happen before we can take off?

Later this year there will be no more obstacles to starting international flights. We’re currently working to complete the facilities for the Border Force international processing areas in the terminal; while our team is working hard to lobby the airlines and present the business case for new domestic and international routes.

Saying that, you can already fly to more than 65 overseas destinations in just one stop from Newcastle Airport. I’m flying to the United States early next year and when I factored in price and total travel time, the smartest choice was flying from Newcastle Airport. Plus, it meant we didn’t start and end our journey with our four-year-old with a long car trip.

What destinations are on the airport’s wish list?

I’ve found that connectivity to places like Canberra and Brisbane works really well.  We’re also focused on increasing flights to Melbourne and the Gold Coast.

High on the hit list for both business and leisure travel is Adelaide. We’re working collaboratively with the Adelaide Airport team to jointly present the business case for direct NTL-ADL services.

Other domestic destinations on our radar include Cairns, the Sunshine Coast, Hobart and Perth.

Why the focus on short haul destinations?

Short haul domestic destinations are always going to be a mainstay for us; they service the bulk of travelling requirements by our catchments of the Hunter and Central Coast.

Short-haul international flights use the same aircraft type used on our current domestic routes (e.g. Brisbane and Melbourne) and are therefore a natural extension of our services. Our current infrastructure has been built to accommodate these types of aircraft.

The larger an aircraft, the more additional infrastructure is needed.  For example, you need a larger terminal to cater to an aircraft that can carry up to 400 passengers. There’s also the need for stronger airfield pavements, which currently aren’t in place.

Our research shows that the demand in our catchment is primarily for short-haul destinations, or long-haul destinations with one easy stop. We’re slowly getting ourselves into a position where we can offer this.

Domestically the airport has been growing in leaps and bounds. Where are you seeing the most growth?

We’ve had some bumper months recently. May was the 19th consecutive month where we’ve had comparative month-on-month growth. Most months we’ve been sitting around five to six per cent growth year on year, but some months it’s been as high as 12 and even 14 per cent.

Looking at domestic growth figures of airports around the country, Sydney is sitting at 1.5 per cent and Brisbane is sitting at -1.5 per cent, so we’re performing really well.

We’re about to have a record financial year for passenger growth, breaking the 1.25 million passenger mark for the first time. This has mostly been led by increased aircraft capacity, and additional flights offered on all our major routes.

How many people travel from Newcastle Airport each year? Where do the travellers come from?

More than 1.25 million passengers come and go each year through Newcastle Airport. More than half of our passengers are travellers from our own catchment (Hunter region, Mid North Coast, Central Coast); 35 per cent are from Queensland and Victoria and just under 10 per cent are from NSW but live outside our catchment.

Newcastle Airport shares the runway with the neighbouring Williamtown RAAF Base. Who actually owns the runway?

Department of Defence owns and maintains the runway. Newcastle Airport’s operations occur under an Operating Deed with the Department of Defence. This provides us with access to the RAAF runway and taxiways. We have a great relationship with our landlord and the RAAF provides us with air traffic control and fire-fighting services. Newcastle Airport has a leasehold of 28 hectares. We build and maintain the tarmac and two taxiways on the airport-side of the runway.

How does this impact the operation and growth of the airport?

Our Operating Deed means we have access to facilities that may not otherwise be available and there’s significant room for growth.

What people don’t often consider is the economic benefit of having two large defence bases in the region, being Williamtown and Singleton. Defence are not just our landlord, but also our customers using us to fly for both business and leisure.

What is the expected impact of the new Joint Strike Fighters making their home at the RAAF base from December next year?

From an airport perspective, we’re expecting to see an increase in traffic to and from both the US and Canberra. From an operational perspective, we expect it will be business as usual.

Having the aircraft home-based at Williamtown provides opportunities for jobs and innovation, and has resulted in the expansion of BAE Systems to allow them to take on the new maintenance contract. The economic opportunities are significant and have been widely reported, but it’s the benefit to our community that I’m also excited about. The RAAF personnel that now call the Hunter home are the people next door, in our cafes; cheering their kids on at sporting matches.

From a personal perspective, I’ve been here two years and still get a buzz when I see the fast jets flying, so seeing the first F35 will be amazing.

Lastly, if you could fly anywhere from Newcastle Airport where would you go and why?

If you’re talking direct overseas flights, I personally would love to fly with my family to Fiji, and New Zealand is also on the wish list. I’d love to hire a campervan with the family and drive through scenic mountain ranges.

High on the hit list for both business and leisure travel is Adelaide. We’re working collaboratively with the Adelaide Airport team to jointly present the business case for direct NTL-ADL services.

Peter Cock, Newcastle Airport CEO