Hamilton and airline welcomes $2.8m airport upgrade

HAMILTON'S outdated airport is to be overhauled in major new project tipped to boost tourism and business ventures.

The $2.8 million upgrade was announced yesterday by Parliamentary Secretary for Regional and Rural Development Jaala Pulford, who said the facility had not been improved since the 1960s.

A runway extension, taxiway strengthening and terminal renovations are among tasks to be completed, with pilots to benefit from new visual aid and weather information systems.

"The whole area is due for a significant improvement to both the way it looks and feels, but also very importantly the way it operates," Ms Pulford said.

"The upgrade will also include a better capacity for aviation training and provide for better emergency medical, health, fire and rescue services."

Southern Grampians Shire will contribute $575,000 to the project, which is expected to begin mid-year.

Mayor Marcus Rentsch said existing and emerging industries across the south-west would welcome a more dynamic airport.

"It's a wonderful achievement - we can now really get this one rolling," he said.

"Council is confident that this upgrade will further consolidate Hamilton's role as a regional centre and open new doors for businesses and government agencies to establish themselves here in the geographical centre of the south-west."

Sharp Airlines is the airport's key stakeholder and runs 34 flights from Hamilton each week.

Managing director Malcolm Sharp said he was pleased the business would have a further chance to grow.

"This is probably well overdue and it's been very well received," he said.

Mr Sharp said upgrades would also help the airline's pilot training school expand.

"We've got 23 cadets training here at the moment, which is a huge amount of pilots," he said.

"We're probably peaking at the right time ? 12 months ago we were probably a bit worried, but now we're confident that those young people will be able to find work."

RMIT Hamilton research fellow Paul Collits said a local airport encouraged city-based university academics and board members to travel to regional sites.

"It takes a special sort of a commitment to endlessly do that, to drive and take trains down to Melbourne," he said. "Just having the capacity to get down there quickly means an enormous amount to the region and to us, but particularly it means that we can get Melbourne people to come up here and be involved in our important events."

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