The Federal Government’s new tourism and aviation support package will do little to ease the crisis facing many regional airports, the Australian Local Government Association (ALGA) said today.
While acknowledging the $1.2 billion package will help the struggling aviation and regional tourism sectors transition past the end of the JobKeeper program, ALGA said it offered nothing substantive to regional airports, many of which are struggling to survive.
Since the onset of the pandemic, revenues at some local council-owned airports have collapsed by as much as 90 percent.
Moreover, despite sharply fewer regular airline flights, councils are still having to pay the full costs of compliance, safety, and maintenance for their airports.
ALGA President Cr Linda Scott said councils are grateful for ongoing federal and state government programs to support or enhance aviation safety and accessibility.
“There are almost 4000 jobs generated by regional and remote airport precincts across the country and given the uncertainties about when the pandemic will be brought under control, federal and state governments need to reconsider their level of direct support for local government.
“Local government has been given little direct financial support during Covid-19, apart from subsidies to help meet the costs of government-mandated security screening of passengers and freight,” Cr Scott said.
“Because of the rising costs of compliance, few regional airports came to this crisis in strong financial position.
“Nonetheless, they have waived landing fees and passenger levies for airline operators so their communities can continue to travel for work, health or education.”
Cr Scott added that because local governments were not eligible for JobKeeper payments, councils have struggled to hold on to airport staff.
“There’s a real risk that without further direct support, these skilled people will leave their communities in search of work elsewhere – making a return to normal operations for regional airports extremely difficult in the short term.”
About 200 airports are owned by councils, and besides keeping local communities connected with large urban centres, these facilities are needed for medical services and disaster emergencies.
Local government is committed to keeping its airports open, even where these are running at a loss and require cross-subsidies that hamper the ability to deliver essential services and functions.
“We’re now at a point, however, where councils are looking to have to cut community services to sustain their airports,” Cr Scott said.