Newcastle Airport has signed an agreement with defence contractor BAE Systems Australia to lease land at the site of a planned high-tech air hub that the airport says will bring more than 5000 jobs to the area.
The NSW deputy premier John Barilaro was at Williamtown Airport Tuesday to turn the first sod at the Astra Aerolab site, which was announced last year with $11.7 million in grant money
Newcastle Airport acquired 76 hectares for the Astra Aerolab Business Technology Park - which will specialise in aviation and aerospace-related manufacturing, maintenance and research projects - in January.
The $19.66 million facility, which will adjoin Newcastle Airport and RAAF Base Williamtown, will include on-site cafes, parks and cycleways and certain lots will have airside access.
Newcastle Airport CEO Dr Peter Cock said the new agreement with BAE to lease land within the 76 hectare Aerolab precinct signified an exciting milestone for the project.
"BAE Systems Australia is the nation's largest defence and security company, so the importance of this signing cannot be overestimated," he said.
"RAAF base Williamtown will eventually be home to 56 of the 72 F-35A Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) fleet, so Astra will hold an extremely important place in developing and maintaining our nation's strategic defence capabilities."
The Newcastle Herald reported last year when the project was first announced that the airport had an option on the land, which is located inside the PFAS-contaminated red zone, but had not purchased it.
Newcastle Airport described the project Tuesday as a world class defence and aerospace precinct that will ultimately deliver 5500 jobs to the region.
"BAE Systems has already confirmed that sustainment of the JSF fleet will create direct employment within the company for 400 people in highly skilled roles," Hunter Business Chamber CEO Bob Hawes said.
"With the rollout of the F35A Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) fleet and the Newcastle Airport's plans for growth, defence and aviation will become increasingly important sectors within the regional economy."
"Astra Aerolab will also build on the good work already being done in the region to introduce students to employment and study pathways in defence and aviation, strengthening the region's workforce capabilities and providing our young people with exciting new career opportunities."
The aerolab is a joint $19.66 million project funded by the NSW Government, City of Newcastle and Port Stephens Council.
Port Stephens Mayor Ryan Palmer and state MP Kate Washington attended the sod turning ceremony.