REGIONAL airports around the country are struggling to keep up with the high costs of maintenance, let alone significant infrastructure improvement often needed in areas trying to cope with the mining industry expansion.
Coming months after a Deloitte Access Economics study found half of all regional airports were operating at a loss, the Australian Airports Association released a report outlining what could be done.
While the growth of resources sector, particularly in central and southern Queensland, has been a boon for the local economies, many local councils were struggling to maintain their airports and air strips.
But AAA chief executive Caroline Wilkie said it was not just the mining boom, with regional and remote airports a vital link for remote people to access essential and emergency services.
But upgrading a small regional airport to take common medium-sized planes like the Dash 8, could cost a local council more than $20 million - an investment under threat if airlines decide to pull their service.
"People rely on the more than 250 regional airports with regular passenger transport and the further 2000 airstrips around Australia to connect with family and friends, 13% of domestic airline traffic each year on Australia's regional network," she said.
"The costs of running a regional airport, including maintenance and expansion are incredibly high, with locations further from capital cities the most expensive."
Mining and resources, she said, was increasing the pressure on regional airports, with recent expansions at places like Emerald allowing for 110% growth in visitors, or Moranbah, with a 385% rise in air traffic.
But in those regions not showing the massive growth, Ms Wilkie argues the cost increases and falls in visitor numbers could combine to cause a mass privatisation of regional airports.
She said the AAA expected such sales could come if the costs "become too onerous for local councils to manage" or council see a better investment opportunity in other local infrastructure.
Ms Wilkie said changes could be made to avoid "unnecessarily complex" laws and regulations at some regional and remote airports.'
"Changes need to be made from a regulatory perspective to ensure these airports can continue to deliver crucial social and economic benefits to their respective regions," she said.
Regular public transport figures, 2005-06 to 2010-11:
- Ballina: 269,886 to 291,322: up 7.9%
- Bundaberg: 98,276 to 132,731: up 35.1%
- Coffs: 322,206 to 341,116: up 5.9%
- Emerald: 78,651 to 166,785: up 110.9%
- Gladstone: 159,950 to 240,275: up 50.2%
- Hervey Bay: 140,863 to 158,590: up 12.6%
- Lismore: 66,880 to 49,365: down 26.2%
- Longreach: 18,078 to 32,630: up 80.5%
- Mackay: 660,632 to 1,049,172: up 58.9%
- Moranbah: 8,549 to 41,488: up 385.3%
- Rockhampton: 588,028 to 719,805: up 22.4%
- Roma: 16,247 to 59,524: up 266.4%
- Sunshine Coast: 786,178 to 914,175: up 16.4%
SOURCE: Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics.
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