The 2017 federal budget has failed to deliver much-needed money for regional airports according to the Australian Airports Association (AAA).
In 2016, the AAA commissioned a study last year that found 61% of regional airports had budget deficits in 2014 with costs exceeding revenues by an average of 45% for airports without RPT services. In February this year, the association urged the government to allocate funding in the federal budget to address the shortfall.
"Despite compelling evidence about the need for more funding, we are very disappointed the Turnbull Government has not addressed this requirement in the budget," AAA CEO Caroline Wilkie said only hours after the budget was delivered in Canberra on 9 May.
"The remaining funding available in the Remote Airstrip Upgrade (RAU) programme simply isn’t adequate to address the $170 million shortfall in essential aeronautical infrastructure investment in regional Australia," Wilkie added. "While some airports have been fortunate enough to access other funding such as the Building Better Regions Fund, the fact remains that there are a large number of small regional aerodromes that simply can’t compete on a level playing field for these broader infrastructure funds."
Minister for Intrastructure and Transport Darren Chester has defended his government's funding, outlining the investments already made in regional airports.
"The Coalition Government has provided more than $270 million in support for regional airports across the nation–including a $181 million concessional loan to expand the Sunshine Coast Regional Airport–but we also recognise the demand for more investment to improve local services," Minister Chester told Australian Flying.
"I’ve met with several local government councils in recent months which intend to seek funding under the Building Better Regions programme and I encourage them to make applications for financial support."
Minister Chester pointed to several funding arrangements as evidence of the government's support for regional airports, including:
- $33.7 million over four years to upgrade remote airstrips under the Regional Aviation Access Programme.The latest round of funding distributed $11.8 million for safety and access improvements across 91 projects
- $5.9 million in subsidies for remote air services
- $38 million to help allow Hobart Airport to attract international airlines and passengers
- Other grants provided through the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development totalling more than $46 million, including $10 million to help upgrade Mildura’s airport and $9 million for improvements to Kangaroo Island Airport.
When questioned about the AAA report and whether or not he valued its findings, Minister Chester replied "I value the input of the Australian Airports Association and their ongoing efforts in relation to regional aviation issues. The association plays a critical role in highlighting the importance of aviation in regional and remote Australia."