Australia will spend $50.1 million over the next four years to boost security at 64 regional airports.
The funding commitment, which covers new and upgraded screening technologies and associated infrastructure, was outlined in the 2018/19 federal budget published on Tuesday night.
The budget papers also showed a further $28.3 million would be spent over the next four financial years to continue the Remote Airstrip Upgrade program.
The funding for a further three rounds of the program, which offers funding for improvements to airfields in isolated communities, will be comprised $4.3 million in 2018/19, $9 million in 2019/20, $9.1 million in 2020/21 and $5.9 million in 2021/22.
“The funding will deliver better access and safety upgrades for remote community airstrips. Remote airstrip upgrades ensure continued access to essential, potentially lifesaving, health care as well as fresh food, mail services and access to employment and education opportunities,” the budget papers said.
Australian Airports Association (AAA) chief executive Caroline Wilkie welcomed the funding package for remote airports.
“The AAA has been campaigning for many months to protect regional airports and we’re delighted with this outcome,” Wilkie said in a statement.
“This week’s budget allocation is welcome recognition of the important role regional airports play in their communities and will keep local people connected and thriving for years to come.
“This funding will help ensure remote airports can keep their infrastructure safe and fit-for-purpose, connecting their community to essential emergency services, loved ones and services only available in larger regional and metropolitan centres.
However, Wilkie said the AAA would keep lobbying for airports not eligible for the regional airstrip upgrade program to be looked after.
“More must be done to break the back of the infrastructure backlog facing our regional airport network to ensure we have a safe and viable regional aviation network for all Australians,” she said.
REGIONAL EXPRESS CALLS FOR DISCERNING USE OF FUNDS
In a statement on Monday – before the budget papers were published – Regional Express (Rex) called on the government to be “discerning” in its funding of regional airport improvements.
The regional carrier said its ticket prices had risen only 1.1 per cent since 2002/03, while operating costs had increased “significantly, particularly with the costs imposed by local government for the essential use of regional airports”.
“The most significant factor contributing to the escalating airport charges has come about by irresponsible and grandiose spending on regional airports to construct excessive facilities that provide no meaningful improvement to the air service,” Rex said.
“Such regional airport upgrades are often facilitated using federal or state government funding and they result in the perverse effect of making regional air travel more expensive which directly threatens the viability of essential regional air services.”
“Rex calls on the federal and state governments to be discerning in its funding to regional airports and pay close consideration to the economic justification, including the impact of increased head tax that follows.”
Wilkie said in response to the Rex statement the regional carrier was “putting its own profits before the interests of regional Australia” in calling for “such a punitive approach” to regional airport funding.
BODY SCANNERS COMING TO MORE AIRPORTS
Other measures in the 2018/19 federal budget include $121.6 million over the next four years to improve screening of inbound cargo and mail, as well as $121.9 million over four years to increase the presence and specialist capabilities of the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and the Australian Border Force (ABF) at nine major domestic and international airports.
Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for Immigration and Border Protection Peter Dutton said in a statement the measures would include the use of body scanners and advanced X-ray equipment at major and regional Australian airports.
There would also be 140 additional AFP counter terrorist first response officers at airports, alongside a further 50 AFP officers for tactical intelligence and other support.
“I will introduce new laws to complement these measures providing the AFP broader powers to conduct identity checks at airports and to order a person to ‘move on’ from airport premises where needed,” Dutton said on Tuesday.
“These initiatives will ensure Australia remains a trusted destination for trade and travel and a world-leader in aviation security.”
The statement noted ALOs were “highly skilled in document examination, impostor detection and passenger assessment” and provided airlines and local governments “on-the-spot advice on passenger assessment and Australia’s entry requirements”.
“In the past five years ALOs have stopped more than 1,000 passengers who have attempted to board a flight to Australia as an impostor or with a fraudulent document,” the Minister’s statement said.
MELBOURNE AVALON TO GET INTERNATIONAL FACILITIES
Meanwhile, the federal budget shows the Department of Infrastructure, Regional Development and Cities has allocated $20 million to set up international arrivals and departures facilities at Avalon Airport.
It said the new infrastructure would allow Avalon to initially handle about 400,000 international passengers a year.
“Once international services commence, the new services are expected to generate almost 190 additional full time jobs at the airport and 170 additional jobs in Geelong and the surrounding region,” the budget papers said.
“Direct international services from Avalon will benefit the tourism economy of the region, and create opportunities for a range of new exports including fresh produce, as well as acting as a catalyst to other prospective international carriers.”
In February, low-cost carrier AirAsia X announced it planned to shift its Melbourne-Kuala Lumpur services from Tullamarine to Avalon later in 2018. However, there is no specific date for move.
CHRISTMAS AND THE COCOS (KEELING) ISLANDS FLIGHTS
The Department of Infrastructure, Regional Development and Cities has allocated $51.6 million over the next four years to maintain air services to Christmas and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands from Perth and upgrade local infrastructure.
The capital funding totals $28.2 million between 2018/19 and 2020/20 and will be used on improving the wharf at Flying Fish Cove and the mooring systems at Smith Point, Christmas Island, as well as the decommissioning of the wharf crane and mooring system at Norris Point, Christmas Island.
It will also be used for “developing business cases for long-term infrastructure upgrades to the stormwater network on Christmas Island and to address safety issues with port infrastructure in the Indian Ocean Territories”, the budget papers said.
“The Government will also underwrite air services to the Indian Ocean Territories delivered by Virgin Australia for a further four years,” the budget papers said.
Virgin Australia began serving Christmas and the Cocos (Keeling Islands) in April 2010, when it was operating as Virgin Blue. It succeeded Cobham Aviation Services on the route.
Currently, the airline has a triangular Perth-Cocos Island-Christmas Island-Perth service on Saturdays and a Perth-Christmas Island-Cocos Island-Perth operation on Tuesdays with Airbus A320s.
MELBOURNE TULLAMARINE RAIL LINK
Elsewhere, the budget papers said the government planned to fund the establishment of a train link between the Melbourne CBD and Tullamarine airport “up to $5 billion”.
However, there was no budget allocation committed for the next four years, with the budget papers noting “specific funding arrangements, including an option for equity investment, [would] be settled at a later date and with an equivalent contribution to be provided by the Victorian Government”.
WESTERN SYDNEY AIRPORT
As work on the proposed airport at Badgerys Creek in western Sydney continues, the budget papers said $5 million would be allocated in 2017/18 to build a visitor and information centre.
“The visitor and information centre will include an exhibition space, presentation and consultation facilities, and public viewing access to the Western Sydney Airport site works,” the budget papers said.