IT is 70 years this year since the first civilian passengers stepped onto the tarmac at Williamtown, and the history of Newcastle Airport – at least in theory – began.
History records a charter flight landing at Williamtown RAAF Base only two years after the end of World War II, and while Williamtown would still have been a distinctly Department of Defence facility.
The RAAF Base remains one of Australia’s most significant Defence sites, but that charter flight back in 1947 was a first step towards a post-war age, when travel would increasingly be linked with pleasure rather than security.
It was February 20, 1948 that the first scheduled commercial operations started at Williamtown.
Nearly 70 years later, Newcastle Airport has notched up 1.25 million passengers in the past year, and posted a record for the Williamtown site along the way.
There is no doubt that the airport is a major contributor to the Hunter’s economic growth and fortunes. It is difficult to imagine a region the Hunter’s size, and with the breadth of economic activity, without an airport. But the real value of Newcastle Airport is in its attitude – it is a transport hub that is looking out to the world, and inviting the world in.
Sydney Airport and the decades-old debate about the need for a second airport site has tended to hog the limelight when NSW airport infrastructure is discussed. But the failure of governments – federal, state and local, Labor and Coalition – to commit to a second Sydney site until relatively recently, has meant the advantages Sydney used to have for millions of travellers each year are fading.
Newcastle Airport chief executive Dr Peter Cock refers to the “conditioned thinking” that if you’re flying to a destination that Newcastle Airport doesn’t have a direct flight to, you need to travel down the M1.
Sydney traffic has put a dampener on that. The cost of parking at Sydney and the crush of flights are also negatives for Australia’s largest airport.
Sydney’s major advantage for many travellers today is the rail connection. But Newcastle Airport at Williamtown has the easy drive with plenty of relatively inexpensive parking.
It is too soon to say where plans for international flights at Newcastle Airport will go. But the sky is the limit.