Regional airports contributing to and connecting our communities

Australia is one of the most sparsely populated countries in the world. Our dependence on air transport to link our cities and regions with each other and the rest of the world means aviation is an industry of national strategic importance to Australia. Aviation is a critical part of the national economy supporting all facets of business, trade and tourism activities which in turn contribute significantly to Australia’s prosperity.

Regional airports play vital roles in sustaining regional economies and communities, enabling access to specialist health, education, commercial and recreational facilities, and facilitating social connections. Regional airports are also a key facilitator of tourism, which is a significant economic driver for many regional communities.

Regular Passenger Transport (RPT) and charter flights operating from regional airports facilitate efficient development of Australia’s natural resources, weekly bringing many thousands of Fly-In- Fly-Out (FIFO) workers to distant mines and development sites from both capital cities and other regional centres.

Regional airports save lives by facilitating medical evacuations, collection and delivery of organ donations and search and rescue. They also protect Australia’s physical assets by enabling firefighting in areas where road transport is impossible or impractical.

Access to regional airports and air services provides business and consumers the ability to source alternative suppliers, enhancing innovation through access to a wider range of skills and human resources. Competition inherent with access to alternative supplies of goods and services generates contestable markets, leading to a more efficiently operating economy.

Overall the regional and remote aviation network provides the essential link for our citizens to access essential services city residents often take for granted.

In September 2016, the Australian Airports Association (AAA) released a study undertaken by ACIL Allen on the economic contribution of regional airports across Australia, and analysis of the economic challenges faced in operating and maintaining these airports.

The AAA believes Commonwealth Government funding assistance is essential for the ongoing viability of regional airports and aviation in Australia. To this end the AAA has undertaken extensive stakeholder and government engagement to ensure policy decision makers are aware of the funding crisis facing many regional airports across Australia.

The majority of regional airports across the country are owned and operated by Local Government Councils. These councils often find it difficult to supplement the funding shortfall existing at many regional airports due to limited budgets and the competition for Local Government funding for a variety of other infrastructure and community services.

Over the next 10 years, many regional airports will simply not be able to generate sufficient revenue to fund critical maintenance and infrastructure works in order to continue facilitating aviation services. This problem is compounded by expected increases in expenditure over the same period, which will create a continually growing backlog of infrastructure work required at regional airports across the country. Government assistance is required otherwise many regional airports face the legitimate threat of no longer being able to provide critical aviation services for their local region and community in the near future.

The AAA’s position is that the Commonwealth Government must provide more dedicated funding assistance to regional airports for critical aeronautical infrastructure maintenance projects. This could be achieved through a funding increase for the Regional Aviation Access Program (RAAP), in particular the RAU Program, and widening the eligibility guidelines to provide funding opportunities for those regional aerodromes that are not currently captured in the scheme.

On behalf of our members and with the support of the Australian Logistics Council (ALC), Regional Aviation Association of Australia (RAAA) and the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS), we are asking the Government to provide all regional airports access to funding to undertake essential infrastructure investment to improve safety and keep our regions connected.

To allow regional airports to continue to play vital roles in sustaining regional economies, enabling access to specialist health, education, commercial and recreational facilities, and facilitating social connections, the AAA and its industry partners are proposing a two-pronged solution.

Firstly, extend the Regional Aviation Access Program (RAAP) for a further four years and top it up by $2 million a year, taking it to $15 million a year grants program. This would be $60 million over the four years. This fund has made a real difference to communities such as Bulloo Shire Council who has been able to upgrade the lighting system at Thargomindah through a grant of $133,000 through the Remote Airstrip Upgrade Program.

The RAAP is rightly focused on remote communities, allowing them to have access to the same services as other Australians.

Secondly, develop a new grants program, similar to the RAAP allowing other regional centres (not just those that are remote) to apply for funding. The fund would be $25 million a year or $100 million over the four years. This new program would allow for airports such as Moruya in regional NSW or Biloela in regional QLD to apply for funding which under the existing RAAP, they would be ineligible.

Both programs should still allow for the 50:50 funding contribution split between Local/State Government and the Commonwealth. However, all applicants need to be assessed on a case by case basis, to allow for special provisions where an equal contribution arrangement may not be possible.

Providing a greater level and scope of financial assistance to regional airports will ensure the industry continues to provide regional Australians with safe and efficient aviation services.

Regional airports are necessary to facilitate critical aviation services often providing the only lifeline for regional communities to the rest of the country.

Dedicated Federal Government funding for regional and remote airports is critically important to the future well-being of regional aviation in Australia.

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