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The Australian Airports Association (AAA) has responded to the recently-released federal Aviation Recovery Framework, outlining plans to support the sector through the ongoing challenges of the pandemic.

The framework sets out new policies to reposition aviation to ensure a competitive, safe and secure aviation sector.

The Aviation Recovery Framework was informed by the Future of Australia’s Aviation Sector Issues Paper, a comprehensive consultation paper that was released to canvas industry and community views on potential policy directions.

The framework was also informed by advice from the Future of Aviation Reference Panel, which was established to consult the aviation industry on the Issues Paper and provide expert advice to the government on the challenges facing the industry and opportunities for reform.

A long road to recovery

AAA Chief Executive, James Goodwin, said he was pleased the Federal Government had committed to work with the sector on rebuilding after more than 18 months of stop-starts, border closures and record low passenger numbers. 

“While domestic borders are beginning to reopen and international travel is back on the cards for Australians, airports are by no means out of the woods yet,” Mr Goodwin said. 

“Our independent modelling has shown it will take several years for the sector to return to pre-pandemic levels, particularly as new variants of the virus emerge with current rising case numbers making would-be travellers nervous.”

AAA calls for more security funding

Mr Goodwin said it was disappointing that the Domestic Airports Security Costs Support program would be cut off at the end of December 2021.

“The Government must also urgently consider supporting the major airports in upgrading security screening infrastructure so that it’s in line with international standards,” Mr Goodwin said.

“Recent consumer research commissioned by the AAA found almost 80 per cent of travellers believe it’s the Australian Government’s job to pay for this new mandatory equipment. The impacts of the pandemic on Australia’s major airports has made an investment of this size and scope almost impossible.”

Ramping up for rural and regional airports

The framework sets out plans to support regional airports with upgrades and investment.

“Operators of rural and remote airstrips are pleased to see the government invest a further $15 million in the Remote Airstrip Upgrade Program (RAUP) which will fund critical infrastructure upgrades to ensure our remote and indigenous communities remain connected to the rest of Australia,” Mr Goodwin said.

“A third round of the Regional Airports Program (RAP) is also welcome, however no further funds have been allocated. 

“Maintaining existing and building new infrastructure assets remains the number one challenge for both large and small regional airports, and we would encourage the government to consider a top up of the funds for this program as part of the Federal Budget in March.”

More support needed for emissions reduction

Mr Goodwin said it was good to see a focus on the skills shortage in the sector, but he would like to see increased support in other areas such as emissions reduction.

“While the six strategic priorities set out in the Government’s new framework are all important, support for airports with the transition to net zero should also be included,” Mr Goodwin said.

“It’s also critical the Government prioritises the Demand Management Arrangements at Sydney Airport. 

“This is important to ensure a fair and efficient Sydney slot system which promotes competition, stimulates broader economic recovery and keeps regional communities connected.” 

A copy of the Aviation Recovery Framework is available here.

A copy of the expert panel’s report to the Federal Government is available here.

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