GRAFTON Regional Airport's steady decline in passenger numbers is an issue of concern for Clarence Valley Council but the facility's financial loss of $186,147 in 2009-10 is justified by what the facility brings to the Clarence Valley, council general manager Scott Greensill said yesterday.
The airport, which is owned by the council, is proving to be a costly investment which is ultimately born by Clarence Valley ratepayers.
In June, the council missed out on $2m of Federal funding from Regional Development Australia, but Mr Greensill is hoping the council can secure at least half of the $1.2 million needed to upgrade lighting, strengthen the runway and expand parking aprons.
Mr Greensill said the council could not simply operate the facility on the basis of financial performance because it fulfilled important community service obligations - just as other facilities such as swimming pools and libraries (which also cost ratepayers money) did.
Broader economics were at play, he said, such as the $4m provided to the area when the Rural Fire Service used the facility as its Northern Rivers airbase in the summer months.
"Only a handful of councils operate their airports at a profit," he said.
Mr Greensill said the council was looking to help Rex Airlines market its service to the community and was hoping the airline could tighten up its two hour, 10 minute service to Sydney which includes a stop at Taree.
Rex has between 18,000 and 20,000 passengers movements at Grafton airport every year but the numbers have been in decline in recent years.
In the Grafton Regional Airport Business Plan, council notes it would be extremely costly to keep the airport open to support the other users of the airport, including the Royal Flying Doctor Service and Rural Fire Service, in the absence of RPT to underpin operations.
The plan states that "...the short-term element of the business strategy is therefore one of survival."