Airport association ‘disappointed’ at Regional Express airport upgrade comments

Australia’s peak airport body is concerned recent comments by airline Regional Express calling for governments to think twice about providing funding for regional airport upgrades could leave ratepayers footing the bill.

Rex recently blamed “irresponsible and grandiose” spending on regional airport upgrades for threatening the viability of regional air services and called on state and federal governments to “be discerning” before providing funding for “excessive” upgrades.

The Australian Airports Association’s chief executive officer Caroline Wilkie said Rex’s remarks risked cutting off regional airports’ financial lifeline, leaving ratepayers footing more of the bill for national aviation infrastructure.

Rex is putting its own profits before the interests of regional Australia...

Australian Airports Association’s chief executive officer Caroline Wilkie

She said Rex’s announcement on the eve of the federal budget undermined the work of the industry to campaign for much-needed funding for struggling regional airports.

“Rex is putting its own profits before the interests of regional Australia when it calls for such a punitive approach to regional airport funding,” Ms Wilkie said.

“Communities will simply get left behind if local councils are forced to mine an already limited ratepayer base to keep their local airport safely operating.

“With 60 per cent of regional airports already running at a loss, it’s galling that Rex would call into question the limited access regional airports have to government funding.

“Having a regional airport with adequate seating, floorspace and toilets for their passengers is not excessive, it’s essential.”

A spokesperson for Rex said the airline supported rational airport upgrades that were commensurate to the needs of the regional community and of the condition of the airport. 

“There were many instances where Rex has publicly supported regional airport funding applications for such upgrades,” the spokesperson said.

“Rex has however witnessed numerous examples where there has been a significant over-allocation of funding for non-essential expenditure.

“This results in ongoing airport costs, depreciation, operating and maintenance costs spiralling out of control. 

“This in turn puts upward pressure on airport charges and regional ticket prices.”

Ms Wilkie said without government funding, Rex would risk seeing airports it serves closing down as ratepayers struggled to keep pace with required maintenance and upgrades.

“It’s time Rex showed its commitment to the regions that have served their business so well by getting behind vital government funding for regional airport infrastructure,” she said.

Ms Wilkie said the announcement on the eve of the budget was especially disappointing given the work of the AAA and the Australian Local Government Association, Royal Flying Doctor Services, Australian Logistics Council and Regional Aviation Association of Australia to secure additional funding as part of its Protect Regional Airports campaign.