A regional aviation industry group has lashed out at government support for carmaker Holden, saying the government has put the needs of a “huge multi-national” above those of small airlines serving rural Australia.
“Detroit might be celebrating tonight but Australians who rely on regional air services are in shock,” Regional Aviation Association of Australia CEO Paul Tyrrell said. “The government should not be in the business of picking winners but designing and promoting policies that will assist all Australian industries.”
The federal government yesterday announced a $275 million package aimed at keeping General Motors-owned Holden in Australia for the next decade, with $215 million coming from federal coffers and the rest from the Victorian and South Australian governments.
The announcement came a few days after federal Transport Minister Anthony Albanese told regional aviators the government would end a $6 million subsidy that reimburses carriers for the cost of air traffic control services on economically marginal rural routes. The industry says the decade old program, known as the Regional Enroute Scheme, plays a modest but important role in keeping such routes viable.
“The en route scheme provided a small incentive to keep marginal routes flying at a low cost to the taxpayer,” Tyrrell said. “The government’s own aviation White Paper promised a replacement to the en route scheme but none has been seen, yet it can’t wait to put taxpayers’ money in the hands of a huge multi-national.”
Tyrrell and others in the industry have repeatedly criticised the government’s carbon tax, saying it unfairly hurts small carriers providing a critical service to regional Australia. With fuel prices at historic highs, they say the combination of the carbon tax, the end of the en route scheme and the launch of beefed up security regulations that require screening at regional airports will likely push some carriers to abandon less profitable routes.
“These new costs, wholly or in part, must be passed on to passengers and will act as a further disincentive to use air travel,” Tyrrell said.
During a summit with industry on Monday, Albanese defended the policies, saying they would add only a few dollars in costs per passenger and citing passenger numbers that show regional airports growing at a faster rate than major city airports. Regional aviators, however, say those numbers are skewed by booming traffic on mining routes while other regional centres are left behind.