Construction has begun on Astra Aerolab’s precinct at Newcastle Airport, a defence and aerospace technology park in the Hunter region that will service and maintain Australian fighter jets.

The 76ha precinct adjoins Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Base Williamtown and is expected to generate up to 5,500 jobs during the construction phase.

Infrastructure will allow aviation companies to establish themselves within the precinct and support RAAF fighter jets, including the F-35A Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) aircraft.

In addition, BAE Systems Australia has entered into an option agreement with Newcastle Airport to lease land on stage one of the Astra Aerolab sites.

BAE Systems Australia is expected to hire more than 400 skilled workers to support the sustainment of the F-35 fleet over the course of the aircraft’s service life.

Newcastle Airport CEO Dr Peter Cock was quoted by Australian media sources as saying: “BAE’s presence will not only attract further jobs and investment but help ensure we develop the world-class defence and aerospace precinct that our region deserves.

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“RAAF Base Williamtown will eventually be home to 56 of the 72 F-35A Joint Strike Fighter fleet, so Astra will hold an extremely important place in developing and maintaining our nation’s strategic defence capabilities.”

The NSW Government granted $11.7m of funding to the precinct in September to create vital infrastructure.

“RAAF Base Williamtown will eventually be home to 56 of the 72 F-35A Joint Strike Fighter fleet.”

BAE Systems Australia defence delivery managing director Andrew Gresham said: “This milestone is incredibly important for our business and will facilitate the redevelopment of our existing Williamtown site ahead of our work supporting the F-35 JSF in Australia.”

In December last year, RAAF took delivery of its first two F-35A JSF jets as the aircraft touched down for the first time at RAAF Base Williamtown.