Pay for upgrades or airports will close
DOZENS of regional Queensland airports could be forced to shut unless governments can fill a $170 million black hole in aeronautical infrastructure in the bush, according to peak body for Australian airports.
The Australian Airports Association CEO Caroline Wilkie will today call for the Federal Government to create a $100 million regional airport infrastructure fund to provide a lifeline for the struggling airports, which are vital for emergency evacuations and carry about 15 million passengers nationally each year.
Ms Wilkie said the funding was needed for essential maintenance and upgrades to ensure the sustainability of the regional aviation network.
"Many regional airports are operated by local councils and expect persistent budget deficits over the next 10 years," Ms Wilkie said.
"These airports provide vital connection to local communities, ensuring access to emergency services, business networks and loved ones.
"Councils must invest in maintenance and upgrades to ensure their airport's safe operation and regulatory compliance, and we face the very real risk of airport closures if a sustainable funding model is not available."
Some regional airports in popular tourist destinations generate income from passengers, but many rely on local governments for the bulk of their funds.
In Queensland, more than 40 regional airports including Roma, Miles, Chinchilla, Windorah, Charters Towers, Bundaberg, Warwick, Dalby, Proserpine, Redcliffe and Maryborough face funding uncertainty.
The AAA proposal would not fund privately owned airports.
Earlier this year, the Federal Government extended by four years funding for smaller remote airports, but airports classified as ''regional'' missed out.
Speaking at the AAA national conference in Brisbane yesterday, Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack said the Federal Government had provided more than $30 million since 2013 to upgrade remote airstrips.
He said regional airports could apply for funding through the Building Better Regions Fund.
But Ms Wilkie said there was no dedicated fund for regional airports, leaving some local councils to draw on limited ratepayer funds to complete essential maintenance and upgrades.
"We must ensure the future of our regional network, to ensure local communities aren't left behind," Ms Wilkie said.
She called for the fund to be delivered over four years with contributions from state and local governments.
The Australian Local Government Association, Australian Logistics Council and Regional Aviation Association of Australia are all backing the campaign.
Regional airports facilitate about 6000 emergency evacuations every year and also house about 500 aircraft used to support firefighting duties.