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Regional airports to use $1.34m in grants to strengthen aerial firefighting capabilities

written by Hannah Dowling | July 28, 2021

A total of $1.34 million has been awarded across four regional airports in the second round of the federal government’s Regional Airports Program, specifically to improve their aerial firefighting capabilities.

The federal government has just released the airports that have been awarded grant funding for upgrades in the second round of the $100 million Regional Airports Program (RAP).

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Under the RAP’s second round of grant offerings, nearly $30 million was provided to a total of 89 regional airports and their operators for necessary repairs and upgrades.

Of the 89, four in particular have been granted funding in order to better support local firefighting efforts, after Australia last year saw its worst bushfire season in recent history.

In the Northern Territory, Hughes Airfield was awarded $600,000 in order to reconstruct its sealed runway to better accommodate for aerial firefighting aircraft, while in Victoria, Hindmarsh Shire Council received $200,000 for the construction of a concrete hard stand for fire bombers, and the replacement of water supply tank at Nhill Airport.

In Western Australia, where it’s been just six months since the devastating Wooroloo bushfires, Mingenew Airport received $241,000 for the completion of “a range of upgrades to support RFDS and fire-fighting operations including widening the airstrip, installation of solar lights and eFlares and sealing the refill area”, while Moora Airport will see $300,000 for runway upgrades and the installation of “water storage tanks, pumps and manifold to support aerial firefighting operations”.

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While $1.34 million was dedicated specifically to bushfire capabilities, in total, $29.59 million was offered to 89 regional airports for upgrades under this round of the scheme, covering everything from new taxiways to reinforced fencing.

Albury Airport was awarded the most funding this round, with a total of $2.68 million given to Albury City Council in order to perform “taxiway, apron and drainage works”, as well as convert the airport’s runway and threshold lights to LEDs.

Meanwhile, Bega Valley Shire Council was awarded $2.18 million in order to construct a new taxiway and apron area at Merimbula Airport, and Wagga Wagga is set to see upgrades to its lighting facilities, with a grant of $1.74 million.

In Victoria, Swan Hill Airport was awarded $658,000 to seal the runway, taxiway and apron area, as well as install aircraft monitoring and counting systems and lighting to the runway and apron, while in SA, Kingston Airport will see replace its aged lighting facilities and create a designated helicopter landing area, with its $264,941 grant.

The $100 million RAP was announced during 2019’s budget, however has taken on increased importance as the country recovers from the COVID pandemic.

Announcing the second round of grants, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Barnaby Joyce said the program supports important safety and access upgrades for regional airports, particularly in light of recent hardship.

“For our regional communities, the local airport provides an essential link to the rest of Australia,” the Deputy Prime Minister said.

“That’s why we’ve committed $100 million over four years from 2019–20 to 2022–23 to help owners of regional airports right across Australia deliver upgrades to improve runway and taxiway pavements and install new lighting or fencing.

“These projects will improve the safety of aircraft, operators and passengers, the delivery of goods and services and better meet the operational requirements of aeromedical and other emergency services, including supporting bushfire preparedness.”

Australian Airports Association (AAA) chief executive James Goodwin said funding for regional airport infrastructure had never been so important.

“Regional airports were among the first hit and will be one of the last to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic with passenger numbers dropping more than 70 per cent during the peak,” Goodwin said.

“This investment from the Australian government not only ensures regional communities can continue to enjoy safe and efficient air transport, it also future proofs regional Australia for generations to come with infrastructure which drives economic growth and connectivity.

“This program will help regional airports deliver projects which create long-term benefits, so communities can continue to have access to freight, work, essential services, health care, family and friends no matter where they live.”

Earlier this year, Australian Aviation reported how Ballarat, Merimbula and Whyalla were among 61 regional airports to share $41 million in funding.

The varied list of projects included:

  • A $5 million runway upgrade at Ballarat Airport in Victoria;
  • $4.5 million for runway works at Merimbula Airport in NSW;
  • $2.45 million for runway and taxiway works at Whyalla Airport in South Australia;
  • $1.73 million for a range of work at Gladstone Airport in Queensland; and
  • $1.66 million for resurfacing works at Albany Airport in Western Australia.

Unlike airports, airlines have received a host of packages to help them navigate the COVID-19 downturn.

Smaller regional carriers have enjoyed a $298 million package to underwrite essential routes; while larger airlines benefited from a waiver of fees and levies worth up to $715 million alongside a government-backed $165 million minimum domestic network. These were extended in advance of this year’s federal budget.

Previously, Mildura Airport chairman Peter O’Donnell warned many smaller airports would struggle to survive without specific coronavirus help.

“We’ll get through this, but my concern is that the regional networks will be decimated because airports will be fundamentally without funds or bankrupted,” O’Donnell said.

Many smaller airports, such as Mildura, were ineligible to pay their staff JobKeeper because they are technically owned by the council, which excluded them from the program.

This year’s budget contained no major new packages of help for the aviation industry, though the government has pledged to allocate $230 million to Tourism Australia to encourage domestic travel and poured $250 million into a ‘Regional Tourism Recovery Package’.

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