By Stephanie Nestor, Assistant Editor, Infrastructure Magazine

A transformation is coming for Ballarat Airport, with a runway extension project underway that will allow larger aircraft to pass through the airport. However, this runway extension promises much more than just more flights for the region, holding the potential to connect Western Victoria with the rest of Australia. 

Ballarat Airport’s runway will be extended from 1,300m to 1,800m, creating opportunities to expand aviation services at the airport by allowing for larger commercial freight, firefighting and emergency aircraft. The project is jointly funded, with the Federal Government contributing $3.8 million as part of its Regional Airports Program and the rest of the funds provided by the City of Ballarat.

This comes after years of advocacy by the City of Ballarat to bring to life its long-term vision for the airport, as outlined in the Ballarat Airport Masterplan 2013-33, which aims to improve transport connections, stimulate economic growth and encourage business expansion for Western Victoria.

Growing connectivity in the west

Originally constructed in 1940, the airport was used as a training base for the Royal Australian Air Force at the beginning of the Second World War, but has since grown to offer a variety of services, including general and recreational aviation, emergency services and community hubs, such as the Ballarat Aviation Museum.

City of Ballarat Mayor, Councillor Des Hudson, said the airport provides valuable services for local and regional communities and organisations. “The airport is home to an airline pilot training academy and a large aerial application business who are also one of Australia’s largest general aviation maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) organisations,” Cr Hudson said.

“It is also a well-established operational and training base for helicopter and fixed wing aircraft carrying out firebombing services. “It accommodates twice weekly flights by air ambulance fixed wing aircraft and is also an alternative landing site for the emergency services that typically use the Ballarat Base Hospital heliport.

“The airport also enjoys an active recreational flying community centred around Ballarat Aero Club.” However, Cr Hudson said the Ballarat and Western Victoria region suffers from a lack of connectivity to other locations in Australia, which means travelling interstate is costly and inconvenient for locals as they have to travel by road to Melbourne Airport.

“Ballarat is one of few Australian top 50 localities by population that does not have a scheduled passenger or freight air service,” Cr Hudson said. “This reduces the city’s connectivity to other major population centres, Sydney for example, which restricts the ability for people to visit Ballarat without having to transit through Melbourne at great expense and inconvenience.

“An upgraded Ballarat Airport would greatly enhance the mobility of people in Western Victoria and connect the businesses in the region to the major population centres, supply chains and markets in Australia.

“The Ballarat Airport is located within the Ballarat West Employment Zone, and at the confluence of two major highways servicing Western Victoria. This has the potential to offer significant productivity improvements and increased market reach for those businesses that use aviation in their operations.”

Accommodating more opportunities

Cr Hudson said the newly extended runway, once operational, will permit the operation of higher performance aircraft, which cannot presently be accommodated at airports in Western Victoria. “In the short term, this will allow larger aircraft to operate passenger and freight charter services into Ballarat Airport or to have maintenance performed.

With additional investment at the airport, the upgraded runway will allow the operation of aircraft capable of providing scheduled interstate airline services. “The commencement of passenger and freight air services from Ballarat to locations around Australia would result in greatly reduced travelling times for businesses and for the more than 300,000 people who live in Western Victoria.

“There will also be the potential for Ballarat Airport to act as a base for the larger fixed-wing emergency services aircraft which will improve the capability for emergency management and response in the region.”

With a longer runway, larger aircraft are able to land and take-off, opening up the airport to new and more frequent services. Supporting different industries, such as freight and tourism, the project would deliver benefits to both the local community and wider economy.

“Productivity increases will occur because of the reductions in transport costs and improvements in transport quality due to aviation. An upgraded Ballarat Airport would allow day-return or overnight business trips, short leisure trips and urgent freight deliveries that would otherwise either be impossible or difficult from Ballarat.

“Additionally, Ballarat and the Western Victorian region contain world class visitor experiences that for many travellersare difficult to reach. Enhanced connectivity through an upgraded Ballarat Airport will encourage domestic and international tourism to the region with the commencement of direct interstate passenger flights.

“The enhanced capability, provided by the newly extended runway, will be explored in the updated Ballarat Airport Strategy and Master Plan 2023. This key strategic planning document, currently being developed, will provide guidance as to how the City can develop the airport to be a critical piece of transport infrastructure, thereby growing the economy and providing seamless connectivity to destinations and markets across Australia for the residents and businesses of Western Victoria.”

A regional air transport hub

The runway extension is close to completion, with final works consisting of asphalting, line marking and lighting installation, which is expected to be completed in January 2024. The full length of the extended airport runway will be able to be used once the new airport access road, Liberator Drive, is constructed.

The Ballarat Airport will continue operating at its current capacity until this occurs and, to date, there has been limited impact on aircraft operations during the construction project. Development Victoria is finalising the program of works that will deliver Liberator Drive and enable the runway to be used in its entirety.

Cr Hudson said that if the full economic benefit of the Ballarat Airport is to be realised, these additional stages of development will need to be funded and delivered. “Stage 2 involves the upgrading and further strengthening of the existing runway pavement and Stage 3 would see the development of an airline terminal and associated passenger facilities, along with the construction of an aircraft apron parking area,” Cr Hudson said.

“We will continue to advocate for government support to partner with us to deliver the future stages of the airport upgrade. We see Ballarat Airport as well-placed to serve as the region’s air transport hub and as a secondary airport for western Melbourne.”

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