Airport future still a mystery

THE FRASER Coast Regional Council is hedging its bets over the future of Maryborough Airport.

In a response yesterday to the Chronicle’s emailed questions on the status and future of the historic airport, CEO Andrew Brien said the council had engaged “specialist consultants to undertake a best value land use analysis of both Fraser Coast airports”.

“The outcomes of this study should be available for consideration by council towards the end of January or the ordinary meeting in February,” he said.

Unfortunately for airport supporters the scenarios being considered in the report place the airport’s future on shaky ground.

Mr Brien said those options were to retain either one or two of the existing airports in current locations, without consideration of a new airport, or to retain either one or two of the existing airports in current locations and the development of a new regional airport in a new location.

“The two scenarios provide an opportunity for council to fully consider the best way forward in relation to the ownership and management of the sites.

The timeframes that are being considered are medium to long term – 15 years or longer.”

The council was looking at the longer term issues associated with the ownership of two airports in close proximity and how the council could maximise any return on the investment.

“The costs associated with the operations and maintenance of an airport are high and unless the costs of operating the airports can be recovered from airport users, there is a need to subsidise the costs through general rates.”

Maryborough airport’s annual revenue is $25,000, operational expenses $133,000. Hervey Bay airport’s revenue is $1.48 million; expenses are $2.34m, including depreciation and finance costs.

The council has allocated $1.09m in capital expenditure for both airports in 2009/10.

The land use study being undertaken is incorporated into the master planning budget for the airports – costing up to $60,000 in 2009/10 with the land use component costing under $20,000. To date the one outside consultancy company has been employed.

Both the former Maryborough and Hervey Bay City councils prepared master plans for the individual airports.

“Given that no decision has been made on the future of the airports, at this stage it is unknown what purposes could be appropriate on the two sites. This will be further considered once council has considered the best value land use report.”

Mr Brien said the council would need to make a decision on when to release recommendations publicly. “Depending on the results of the study it may not be practical or commercially appropriate to release the findings immediately.”

Maryborough Airport is used by the Royal Flying Doctor Service and Angel Flight and yesterday Maryborough Aero Club president Trevor Endres said the community needed to realise how important the aerodrome was for search and rescue and saving lives.

“We have one of the best regional airports in the country. It has an ongoing vital place in the life of the Fraser Coast community and beyond.”

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