The Australian Airports Association (AAA) is calling for a broadening of government support to fund improvements to regional airstrips to the tune of $160 million over the next four years.
The AAA on Wednesday launched its “Protect Regional Airports” campaign in partnership with the Australian Logistics Council, Regional Aviation Association of Australia (RAAA) and Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS).
As part of the campaign, the group is calling for the Regional Aviation Access Programme (RAAP) to be extended for a further four years, as well as the establishment of a new program to broaden the number of remote and regional airstrips eligible for government support.
Under the AAA proposal, the RAAP would be extended at $15 million a year for the next four years, while the proposed new airport grants program would fund regional airports (and not just remote airstrips) with $25 million a year for four years.
The AAA has called for the Commonwealth to contribute half the money while state and local governments to contribute the other half, with the funds used to address local challenges such as the lack of lighting, runway improvements and more essential animal fencing.
“However, we would like to see that 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, particularly in very remote areas,” AAA chief executive Caroline Wilkie said in a statement.
“To continue being a successful and prosperous nation, the back bone of Australia, the regions, need equitable access to markets, health care, exports and produce all of which are facilitated by regional airports.”
The AAA’s Regional Airport Infrastructure Study found regional airports faced a significant funding shortfall in the years ahead to maintain existing facilities and upgrade their airfields to cope with the expected growth in the sector.
The study, conducted by ACIL Allen Consulting and published in September 2016, estimated regional airports with fewer than 500,000 passengers movements a year spent $185 million in 2014/15 to maintain and improve operations.
However, expenditures for regional airports were expected to rise by 38 per cent over the next decade, putting even more pressure on already stretched budgets, with 61 per cent of the nation’s regional airports running budget deficits in 2014/15.
Further, some 40 per cent of regional airports expected to have persistent budget deficits over the next 10 years.
“We know that many of these airports are doing it tough,” Wilkie said.
The RAAP is a government scheme that offers funding for upgrades to remote aerodromes (the Remote Access Upgrade Program, or RAU), inspection and related services at aerodromes in remote indigenous communities (Remote Aerodrome Inspections, or RAI), and subsidised flights to remote communities (the Remote Air Services Subsidy Scheme, or RASS).
The 2015/16 federal budget allocated $33.7 million to be spent over four years towards grants to regional airports for safety and access upgrades. The funding was generally provided on a matching co-funding basis with applicants.
Applications for the final round of remote airstrip upgrade funding closes on Friday, October 20.
RFDS chief executive Martin Laverty said the remote access upgrade program was an essential part of delivering healthcare in the bush.
ALC chief executive Michael Kilgariff said the council was proud to support efforts to secure greater investment and funding support for a safe and sustainable regional airport network.
RAAA chief executive Mike Higgins said “serviceable runways are essential, particularly in rural and remote locations beyond the range of EMS helicopters”.