The federal government says it has noted or accepted all nine recommendations from a Senate committee report on regional air services.
The report from the Senate Standing Committee on Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport, published in June, said the high cost of Australia’s regional air services warranted a detailed investigation in a stand-alone public inquiry by the Productivity Commission.
It also called on the Productivity Commission to consider the social and economic impacts on rural, regional and remote Australia of regional airfare pricing and air route supply as part of its terms of reference in any future studies on the economic regulation of airports.
Among the other recommendations, the committee called on the government prioritise through financial analysis, the ongoing operational, maintenance and staffing costs of proposed passenger security screening enhancements at regional airports, as announced in the 2018/19 budget. Analysis should further consider ongoing regional airport security costs more broadly.
Another recommendation said the government should consider providing ongoing financial assistance to regional airports identified as requiring passenger security screening enhancements.
It also backed the regional aviation access program and its component programs – the remote airstrip upgrade program, remote air services subsidy scheme and the remote aerodrome inspection program – and recommended the government review the level of funding to determine if financial support should be increased, and whether present grants programs were the best means of financial assistance.
Finally, the committee report recommended state transport ministers develop a nationally consistent framework for the tender process, implementation, operation and review of regulated routes. The report said the framework should focus on improving the overall transparency of the operation of regulated routes.
The government’s formal response to the report that was entered into Hansard on Thursday said it had accepted one of the nine recommendations in the report and noted the remaining eight.
On the matter of a Productivity Commission inquiry, the federal government said it noted the recommendation, adding that state governments were constitutional responsible for intra-state aviation and operated a range of schemes involving operational subsidies and route regulation.
“The successful design of these schemes are heavily dependent on local factors, and it is unclear if a national review of disparate local issues will yield useful insights that could inform policy making at the national level,” the federal government response said.
“The Australian government considers state government agencies such as the Queensland Productivity Commission may be better placed to analyse the issues identified by the Committee.
“The Australian government will consult with state, territory and local government counterparts about the committee’s findings and to review current policy settings and programs to ensure they continue to adequately meet the needs of regional Australia and are responsive to future trends and opportunities.”
The one recommendation it accepted was for the Council of Australian Governments to review the efficacy of Western Australia’s Strategic Airport Asset and Financial Management Framework in 2022, assess the efficacy of the framework and determine its suitability for application across all jurisdictions.
“The Australian Government agrees to this recommendation,” it said.
“The Australian Government will undertake a review to analyse the framework’s suitability for application across all jurisdictions.
“If the review finds the framework is effective and suitable to be applied to all jurisdictions, the Australian government will work in an appropriate forum with state and territory counterparts with a view to establishing a nationally consistent framework.”
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack said affordable and accessible air services were crucial to economic development in the regions and the delivery of critical services.
“The issues covered in this report are matters close to the hearts and minds of all Australians, particularly those living in remote, rural and regional Australia,” McCormack said in a statement.
McCormack said he planned to release a regional aviation policy statement issues paper in the coming weeks.
“I recently announced the government will be developing a Regional Aviation Policy statement, in consultation with airport and airline operators, other industry stakeholders, state, territory and local governments and local communities, businesses and individuals,” McCormack said.
“Together, we will develop a comprehensive plan to ensure regional aviation remains vibrant, competitive and viable into the future, taking into account the unique challenges and opportunities facing people and business in regional Australia.”
Meanwhile, the federal government has named International Airline Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) vice president for the Pacific region Andrew Anderson as the chair of the General Aviation Advisory Network.
Anderson replaces former Royal Flying Doctor Service chief executive Dr Martin Laverty, who had served as chair of the forum for the past two years.
In addition to being an International AOPA vice president, Andersen is an Australian AOPA past-president and co-chair of the industry organisation Australian Strategic Air Traffic Management Group’s Satellite-based Augmentations Systems subgroup.
“Mr Andersen has held a pilot’s licence for more than 30 years, owns a Cessna 182 and is a highly respected and very experienced general aviation representative,” McCormack said.
“I look forward to continuing to work closely with Mr Andersen and the General Aviation Advisory Network to ensure Australia’s general aviation sector remains viable and safe.”
McCormack said Dr Laverty established a “solid foundation” for the network to progress a variety of topics.
In other general aviation news, it was announced earlier this week the Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee would conduct an inquiry into “the current state of Australia’s general aviation industry, with particular reference to aviation in rural, regional and remote Australia”.
“The committee will consider the operation and effectiveness of the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) and other relevant aviation agencies,” according to the Australian Parliament website.
“The committee will present its interim report on or before the final sitting day of December 2020, and will present its final report on or before the final sitting day of November 2021.”