Valley's airport touted as a centre of excellence
GRAFTON Regional Airport is being considered as the home of a recreational aviation Australian Centre of Excellence in a bid to make it profitable.
At Tuesday's Clarence Valley Council meeting, Councillor Karen Toms successfully urged the council to investigate complementary activities around the airport.
As well as the centre for excellence, councillors voted to look at ways to set up residential facilities around the airport for aircraft owners, a freight hub and the training of overseas pilots.
Cr Toms said the council, which owned the airport, needed to find ways to save ratepayers' money.
She dismissed the idea that increasing passenger numbers, the subject of the report to the council meeting, was improving the situation.
The report, titled Clarence Valley Regional Airport passenger numbers, made clear there was a trend of increasing passenger numbers.
But Cr Toms said the financial figures showed the airport was still losing money.
"Income has dropped," she said. "In a report from 2010-11, income from the airport was $300,000, now it's $200,000."
Cr Richie Williamson said Cr Toms' motion might be out of order as the council was looking at passenger numbers and not the impact on the budget.
But Mayor Jim Simmons ruled it was a fair motion.
Cr Toms said she had become aware that Recreational Aviation Australia was looking for a regional centre of excellence.
"Surely it would be worth a phone call to invite them to come to the Clarence Valley and have a look," she said.
"We've got to look at ways to increase usage of the airport. It's losing money."
Cr Toms said other regional centres, like Kempsey, had been successfully attracting overseas pilots for training.
"If we want to keep the airport, we have a responsibility to value-add to it," she said.
Cr Peter Ellem supported the idea of a freight hub for the region, linked to the upgrade of the Pacific Highway.
"Other regional centres are doing it, so it's worth us having a look too," he said.
Cr Williamson said he welcomed the positive outlook and said there were other avenues to consider, like an emergency services hub for the Rural Fire Service and SES to operate.
He said the council had considered residential airport facilities in the past, but found there were safety issues.
The council's senior staff said there were issues they were already aware of.
The director corporate, governance and works, Troy Anderson, said the council would need to look at competitive threats.
"I know there are a number of other regional areas training pilots," he said. "I believe Coffs Harbour has some sort of training program in place."
Councillors voted unanimously for Cr Toms motion which will result in a report on these matters coming back to the July council meeting.