Airport under threat of closure
WHILE commercial operators argue over their opportunity to work out of Maryborough Airport, their greatest concern should be for the future of the airport itself.
Aviation industry operators with a business interest in the airport yesterday unanimously voiced their fears that the council could move to close the iconic airport, designed and built as a World War II facility in the early 1940s by local engineer Thomas Aberdeen.
“I just hope the council does not shut down the airport my father built,” Thomas’s son, Max Aberdeen, said yesterday. “It holds huge historic significance and besides, we need regional airports.”
Maryborough Aviation Services proprietor Col Miller does not hold out high hopes.
“I’m certain that the long-term aim of this council is to make it that difficult for any commercial or private aviation venture to be carried out at Maryborough Airport, everyone will go elsewhere and once that happens they’ll go to the Federal Government to get permission to close it down.”
Mr Miller has run his business on a month-by-month lease for 16 years and his consistent pleas for a long-term lease have been met with what he describes as “council bureaucratic stone walling”.
Russell Middleton from Pacific Ibis is waiting for a response to his December 14 letter to the council requesting advice on leasing land to house his flight training school, aircraft assembly facility and a display area for his aircraft.
“Considering the track record of this council denying leases to commercial operators for so long it’s a real possibility that they are looking to close the airport,” he said.
Trevor Endres, Maryborough Aero Club president, yesterday morning told the Chronicle members were meeting with their solicitor at 3pm yesterday.
“The council stopped sending invoices to us ’round about 2006. Only yesterday our treasurer went into the council and paid a lot of money over the counter to ensure they can’t say, ‘well, you’re behind in your rent so goodbye’.
“We’ve been on a permit to occupy our clubhouse since 2004 and our hangar lease runs out in 2014. We desperately need and deserve to stay here. I believe we’re the state’s second-oldest club whose first patron was Charles Kingsford Smith.”
Charter pilot Peter Henderson is so concerned over convincing the council to give him a lease once he gets his CASA charter operator’s certificate, he has decided to “start my business anyway”.
“The council wrote to me on November 14, saying they are doing a land use study, which will be completed by January 2010 and that any ‘approved release of further sites for hangars/business development will be unable to occur until after the land use study has been received and a position adopted’.
“Frankly I don’t hold out any hope considering their track record with other aviation businesses either here or wanting to start up here, so I have decided to land, take off and park my one light plane to start my charter business and pay the council what fees for that they ask for.”
Mr Henderson, who has spent 30 years as a charter pilot, said he believed the council was looking at closing down the airport.
“It’s a familiar pattern. Rents go up, leases are denied, businesses struggle and move out and then the council can claim the airport is not being used. In come the bulldozers and suddenly you have a housing estate on Maryborough Airport.”
Mr Henderson wrote to Prime Minister Kevin Rudd asking for clarification on who owned the airport and what could be done with it.
Mr Rudd’s reply was that the government could only step in where the council “contemplates future development or alternative uses for the aerodrome that could result in the aerodrome being closed or rendered inoperable as such”.
In that case the council must get the consent of the secretary of the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government.
“My fear is that unless this airport is classified ‘strategic’ the council can do what it likes,” Mr Middleton said.
Mr Miller added: “The council owns some 430 acres of this airport. Take the scenario where 130 acres has to be sliced off for roads, footpaths and green space and you have close on 300 acres left.
“At a quarter acre block price of $100,000, that adds up to $12 million – which could offset the millions of dollars in legal costs that this council is racking up when thwarted developers and business people sue because they are either stuffed around or simply tired of hearing the word ‘no’.”