Airport upgrades – ‘grandiose’ or required?

The assertion by regional carrier Regional Express that upgrades at regional airports are threatening air services by adding to operating costs is latest in a series of complaints from the airline.

Earlier this year the airline raised concerns in a submission to a senate inquiry into air services to rural, regional and remote communities, that competition could be having a negative affect on routes with fewer than 100,000 passengers a year

Airport taxes and passenger levies have also previously come under fire from the airline.

We are regularly told regional aviation is a marginal industry and it is important to have some sympathy for a business trying to maintain its bottom line in an increasingly difficult economic environment.

However anyone in business would know that business conditions change and being able to adapt to these changes is one of the keys to success.

While the airline’s comments about unnecessarily “grandiose” spending on regional airport upgrades were not specifically targeted at Port Lincoln Airport or its owner the Lower Eyre Peninsula District Council, it is not hard to draw a connection after a $13-million new terminal was built less than five years ago.

As the council’s chief executive officer Rod Pearson has said the upgrade followed regular feedback that the airport was not up to standard and as a major gateway to the region it did not provide a good first impression. 

And the council hardly rushed into the project.

The need for the upgrade, the scope of the project, designs and funding were studied and discussed by councillors and council staff for years before the new terminal was finally built.

There is no doubt $13 million is a lot of money but it has delivered a much-needed improved facility with very little impact on the passenger levy, thanks partly to state and federal government contributions.

Regional Express has served the region well over the years but whether the airline is being proactive in lobbying for solutions or just playing the blame game in this instance is debatable.

With the announcement in last week’s federal budget that security will be boosted at 64 regional airports through new screening technology, one wonders if that will be next in the firing line.