Grafton airport costs sky high

PLANS to convert the Grafton Airport into a freight hub remain a pipe dream as the asset continues to cost ratepayers stacks of cash.

The airport's viability as a transport facility has come under renewed pressure since Tiger Airways started operations out of Coffs Harbour.

The best price available on lastminute.com.au for a Regional Express (REX) flight to Sydney from Grafton was $222 one way (between September 12 and March 2014.)

Rex is the only airline operating out of the facility. The $222 airfare compares to $49.95 with Tiger Airways from Coffs Harbour to Sydney available over the same dates.

Clarence Valley Council's director of planning Des Schroder said beyond future plans to rezone land around the Grafton Airport for industrial use, little else was happening.

He said the viability of turning the airport into a hub for processing air freight depended on the Pacific Hwy upgrade.

The logic is once the highway is closer to the facility trucks can be used to transport air freight to major centres in South-East Queensland. On June 13 the Federal Labor Government, along with the council and the State Government, announced $2.12 million would be spent upgrading the facility.

The upgrade will include an extension of the airport terminal, an additional parking bay for passenger aircraft, a helicopter pad and runway repairs.

Half of the money, more than $1million, was given to the council by the Federal Government through a Rural Development grant. The other half will come from a low-interest loan provided by the State Government.

But with the best value flights out of Grafton costing more than four times as much as flying out of Coffs Harbour, freight hub plans may be the only way to get the facility back in the black.

The council's 2010-2013 business plan for the airport was tolerant

"Clarence Valley Council currently accepts that the financial deficit, as well as periodic major capital investment, is unlikely to be funded through user charges and will therefore need to be funded by general council revenues," the business plan stated.

The council's director of works, Troy Anderson was asked to provide an update of the facilities current financial situation but did not reply by time of print.



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