OPTIMISTIC: CEO of Gladstone Airport Corporation, Peter Friel, at his office.
OPTIMISTIC: CEO of Gladstone Airport Corporation, Peter Friel, at his office. Paul Braven GLA270117CEO

Airport boss up for challenge

HE'S been in the job for less than three weeks but new Gladstone Airport CEO Peter Friel is optimistic about the future of the airport.

Struggling with about $30 million of debt as at September last year and having to deal with a significant drop in passenger numbers, Mr Friel knows he faces a difficult task to turn the airport's fortunes around, but is up for the challenge.

"We've moved into an area outside of the construction phase where there was a huge demand-driven passenger growth in the airport, which was a little bit of a false economy because it wasn't going to happen forever,” Mr Friel said.

"Now we're moving towards a phase of trying to get that organic growth back.

"I'm looking to partner with the tourism agency to bring about greater growth in our passenger numbers through more organic areas rather than the demand-driven big projects that have happened.

"My major push for the next few years will be to maximise services and the profitability of the airport.”

Friel has extensive experience in airport management throughout the country, working in other regional areas such as Devonport Airport, the East Kimberly Airport and the Lockhart River.

He'll use every ounce of that experience to boost the bottom line of Gladstone Airport over the next four years.

"The last airport I was at, in Devonport, had a pretty low debt-to-equity ratio,” he said.

"The (Gladstone) airport is still in a good position, we are still profitable and providing services.

"The board and myself will work on some strategies over the next few months to boost revenues.

"Most airports are carrying some form of debt because it's such an expensive piece of infrastructure.”

Gladstone's economic downturn has seen a 16.6% decrease in passenger movements during 2015 and a 19.3% decrease in the 2015/16 financial year.

Friel realises he has to work with the cards he's been dealt, but is mindful of balancing the need to reduce debt while maintaining vital services.

"We are owned by the community - the council owns us, so basically the ratepayers are our shareholders and I'm very mindful of doing the right thing by them,” he said.

"We'll look at ways we can improve the services we can offer to passengers coming through Gladstone.

"We're such a major piece of infrastructure which has a lot of economic benefits to the area.”

Although he can't put an immediate time frame on the issue of reducing debt and increasing passenger numbers, Friel remains optimistic about the airport's future despite ruling out an expansion in the short term.

"I think it would be unreasonable for people to think we're going to get back to those levels in the short term,” he said.

"I'm very optimistic about the airport and hopefully we'll have some more flights coming back on board soon.”