While the regional aviation sector has welcomed the revival of a scheme that subsidises the cost of navigation charges for flights to smaller regional centres, it says the new $1 million a year scheme is much smaller than the one it replaces.
The federal government said on Monday it would spend $1 million a year to bring back the Enroute Charges Payment Scheme, which gave airlines the ability to recoup 60 per cent of air navigation charges levied by Airservices on existing routes and 100 per cent of the charge for new routes for up to three years.
Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss says the scheme, which was cut under the previous government, would support vulnerable air routes to regional and remote communities.
“The Coalition in government is focused on encouraging the growth of regional aviation services across Australia and expanding the current network by giving impetus for operators to test whether a new route can be commercially viable,” Truss said in a statement on Monday.
“It can take years for new regional routes to establish sufficient support to become viable, which is why we are providing this additional support for up to three years. If we want to better connect regional Australia we must better target government support to where it is needed for those start-up and marginal routes. A relatively modest amount of government assistance can make a big difference.”
Regional Aviation Association of Australia chief executive Paul Tyrrell said the revival of the enroute scheme was welcome news.
However, Tyrrell noted the size of the previous scheme was worth up to $5 million a year, or five times the size of the new scheme.
“If it can help some existing routes to stay on their feet and we can help a new route or two to get started then it is not a bad thing,” Tyrrell said on Monday.
“It is absolutely better than nothing and we are grateful for that but it is a very small amount of money across the country.”
Truss, who is the Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development, said airlines would be able to apply for assistance on routes carrying up to 15,000 passengers a year using aircraft with a maximum take-off weight of 15 tonnes. Priority would be given to routes that linked a regional or remote community with a capital city or major regional centre.
“This ensures people have the best possible access to health and other professional services, as well as providing essential links for doing business in regional areas,” Truss said.
The scheme, which would cost $1 million a year for four years, came on top of the $1 million each year allocated to supporting vital aeromedical services such as the Royal Flying Doctor Service, Truss said.
Applications, which can be made at the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development’s website, were now open for all eligible services flown since July 1 2014.
Australian Aviation was seeking comment from Regional Express (Rex).