An attractive new name and a new revamp are breathing fresh life into one of the NSW south coast’s signature airports.
Shellharbour Airport – previously known as Illawarra Regional Airport – has already made the commercial change to its new name. But on 7 November, it also becomes official with the UN-based International Civil Aviation Organization and Australian aviation authorities.
The airport south of Sydney, which today is widely known as the home of the Historical Aircraft Restoration Society (HARS) and the Wings Over Illawarra air show, has had a long history involving a string of names.
These have included down the years Albion Park Aerodrome, Wollongong Airport and, more recently, Illawarra Regional Airport.
Its long association with aviation began in the 1920s when fields in the region first attracted the attention of aviators.
But it was World II and the establishment of an RAAF base that would set it up for post-war development as a commercial airport.
Carriers to fly there at various times have included TAA, Australian National Airways, Southbank Aviation and Impulse Airlines.
Significant changes came when council took over ownership of the airport in 1962 and then sole responsibility for operations in 1990.
HARS began relocating from Sydney’s Bankstown Airport in 2000 and its internationally renowned hangar and museum is a significant drawcard for the airport.
Exhibits include a Lockheed Super Constellation and a Qantas Boeing 747-438 that attracted national news coverage when it landed at the airport after a ferry flight in 2015. Movie star John Travolta has also offered his Boeing 707 to the museum.
There have been various upgrades over the years and a runway project in 2005 allowed bigger planes to land on the main runway, 16/34.
Today the airport is served by Fly Corporate, which operates 32 scheduled services per week to Melbourne and Brisbane, and is home to flight training, skydiving, helicopter and engineering services.
However, the Shellharbour City Council did not believe its name accurately reflected the airport’s position.
The decision was made to change the name and give the facility a new logo that would make it easier to promote Shellharbour and provide a stronger link to the area.
“The updated name better reflects the ownership and locality of what is one of the community’s most important assets,” Shellharbour City Council mayor Cr Marianne Saliba says.
In addition to the commercial change, the 7 November update will see ICAO code change from YWOL to YSHL.
Proving trickier is a change to the existing three-letter code, WOL, published by the International Air Transport Association. One complicating factor here is that there is already an airport with the SHL designation near Shillong, India.
As one observer noted, however, this would not be the first time an airport’s ICAO code differed from its IATA designation.
The renaming will be accompanied by a social media campaign and users are getting free parking for three months in honour of the change.
But it isn’t the only significant development at the airport.
It will also benefit from $20 million in infrastructure work funded by a $15.97 million contribution from the NSW Growing Local Economies Program in addition to a council contribution.
The significant spend is part of a plan by the council to develop “a vibrant business hub” to support regional economic development, tourism and employment.
Work between now and 2021 will deliver a new terminal building designed to enhance the customer experience and replace a building that burnt down in 2013.
With construction due to start in February, the proposed terminal and the first stage will include four check-in counters, a lounge area as well as space for a cafe, shop and baggage collection area.
There will also be upgrades to the short- and long-term car parks and two aircraft aprons to cater for future growth.
An asphalt seal on the main runway and works on the cross strip will involve 8000 tonnes of asphalt.
Shellharbour caters for more than 45,000 aircraft movements annually and the installation of airport lighting on the cross runway will facilitate night-time landings when westerly winds arrive in August.
But Cr Saliba notes that this goes beyond simply providing the world-class facilities the travelling public has come to expect.
“These improvements are important to the airport and extend beyond the needs generated by regular passenger transport,’’ she says.
“The development of an aviation economic development park is a central part of the plan and will provide up to 13 additional aviation-related industries spread over a leasable area of 61,450 square metres.
“There has been a rapid uptake of industrial opportunities and these additions and improvements will be very attractive to businesses.”
Earthworks using the equivalent of nine Olympic swimming pools of soil and new services will pave the way for the aviation business park in the airport’s south-east quadrant, including the construction of an access road adjoining Tongarra Road.
The council has also upgraded 4000 metres of security fencing to a more robust mesh type that helps prevents wildlife from entering the airport.
Cr Saliba says the upgrades recognised the airport’s key role as a driver of economic growth in the region.
She says she wants more people accessing the region and notes that investment in strategic assets such as the airport make that possible.
“Development has always been aimed at generating direct and indirect employment via the promotion of tourism, education, maintenance and other transport-related industries,” she adds.
“The airport has growth capacity to significantly add to the region’s economy.
“We need to promote the numerous tourism and adventure activities within the airport, which encourages business activity, community events, tourism and economic growth. This benefits the whole region.”
Airport users have also welcomed the change.
HARS president Bob De La Hunty says the society was delighted that the airport’s name had been changed to truly reflect its location and recognise the community that supported it.
“The tourist potential can now be fully developed with the area identified as close to the ocean, harbour and new marina,” he says.
“The proposed new terminal building will make the destination complete and grow our reputation as an airport worth the visit.”
By Steve Creedy
About Steve Creedy
An award-winning journalist, Steve began covering aviation in the United States in the early nineties before returning to Australia later that decade and editing The Australian’s aviation section for 17 years. He is editor of Airline Ratings and has co-authored books on industry initiatives aimed at reducing greenhouse emissions.
Steve has joined the AAA to write interesting and informative editorial on the aviation industry.