Central Coast Council and Central Coast Aero Club (CCAC) are at loggerheads over the future of Warnervale Airport after a council meeting last Monday night moved to investigate revegetating of part of the existing runway.
CCAC owns 2.4 hectares of land on the eastern side of the airport and has a usage agreement in place, but the council owns the majority of the airport land and the runway.
Recent initiatives have CCAC very concerned that the motion reveals a policy of non-support for the airport. CCAC General Manager Andrew Smith told Australian Flying that the council has also been reluctant to engage with the aero club on extending the usage agreement.
"We have a current agreement to operate on the airports that stretches through to 2021," he said. "We've been trying to get the council to undertake to look at our agreement to extend beyond 2021 and we told that would happen in July last year.
"But since then requests to have that done appear to have fallen on deaf ears, so we've been getting suspicious about what the future of the airport might hold for us."
On Monday night, the council approved a motion through council on Monday night to investigate revegetation of the first third of the runway area including the runway itself and prevents any mowing, slashing or trimming within 200 metres of that area.
"That basically gets rid of the first third of our runway," Smith said. "It also puts in a limitation on any work north or south of the aerodrome, which clearly aims at blocking trimming of the tree line.
"In a few short years there'll be no operational use of the runway."
According to Smith, the council has also advised CCAC that movements at Warnervale would now be restricted because of a clause in a NSW government act of parliament.
"The council is now enforcing a movement cap of 88 movements a day, which is to do with a state government act that operates over this airport. It's a unique act in Australia and is very poorly written. Part of that is this 88 movement cap that applies only if the runway is lengthened beyond what it was when the act was put in place.
"The council did some works on the airport back in 2015. They've always said that they didn't lengthen the runway, but apparently they've had legal advice that they probably triggered the act, but they won't admit to lengthening the runway.
"The 88 movement cap severely hampers our operations here. A Cessna doing circuits will do about 10 landings per hour, so that's 20 movements under the definition of the act because a take-off and a landing are counted as separate movements. If you've got three aircraft flying around you're done for the day within two or three hours."
The paradox that arises is that if the council revegetates one third of the runway, it will effectively shorten the runway, which may negate the 88-movement clause.
"We need to look carefully at the legal advice there," Smith says. "Yes, the runway would then be below the length it was before the act was put in place. There is an argument that the runway was lengthened at one stage and we need to see how the act would be looked at in that area. If the act has been triggered, does that mean it stays triggered or if the runway becomes shorter does that negate the movement cap part of the act. We need to get some strong legal advice on that."
CCAC is concerned that one independent councillor has been voting against anything airport-related "and unfortunately she's been enabled by the Mayor and a new independent on the same ticket as this councillor, and backed by Labor councillors," Smith believes. "Liberal and pro-airport indpendents are in the minority and anything pro-airport is being blocked."
If CCAC is correct, these moves represent a complete about-face in the Central Coast Council's attitude to the airport. Only two years ago, the council called for expressions of interest for a business park to be located at Warnervale Airport and in September 2016, then NSW Premier Mike Baird announced that Amphibian Aerospace Industries would set up a plant at Warnervale to build Albatross amphibian aircraft.
Since then, the project has not gained further momentum.
"There was a $450,000 draft master plan that council staff worked very hard on for getting together a large-scale business park," Smith recalls. "That was knocked on the head when the councils merged ... one of the very first actions was to block public exhibition of that master plan. Effectively it was thrown into a bottom draw somewhere."
After being elected in 2017, independent councillor Louise Greenaway described the proposed development of Warnervale airport as "inappropriate" in an interview with Coast Community News.
However, Central Coast Council today released a statement saying that the proposal would have no impact on airport operations.
"In accordance with the resolution on Monday night, Council officers will prepare a report on undertaking replanting on the land that was reportedly cleared," a Central Coast Council spokesperson said. "This report is expected to be submitted to the Council meeting of 26 August 2019.
"The use of the airport, including by the aero club, has not been impacted by this resolution."
Regardless, Andrew Smith is not feeling optimistic about the future of Warnervale Airport.
"They won't talk with us about our agreement," Smith laments. "The silence we've been getting coupled with these latest under-handed tactics; it's fairly obvious which way the council is going with all this.
"It's not the end of the road; we're going to fight this, but we've got to work pretty hard to make sure our rights are looked after."