Ballina airport lease plan may be on the table

SURPRISE: An offer has been made for Lismore Airport and there are moves in the wind at Ballina.
SURPRISE: An offer has been made for Lismore Airport and there are moves in the wind at Ballina. Marc Stapelberg

BALLINA Council is considering putting the Ballina Byron Gateway Airport up for long-term lease to help ease the financial pressure of investing in new infrastructure.

The matter is up for discussion at next Tuesday's commercial services committee meeting.

It comes in the same week the Lismore City Council has revealed it is considering putting the Lismore Airport up for sale or long-term lease, following an unexpected offer from a WA freight company.

The suggestions to put the Ballina airport up for lease comes off the back of four years of solid passenger growth.

Passenger numbers soared from 271,615 in 2009/10 to about 400,000 in 2013/14. Gross turnover also increased from about $2.4m to $4.7m in the same period.

Although the growth may seem positive, a report attached to the recommendation says Ballina Council is struggling to raise and manage the debt to cater for the capital investment needed for such growth.

However, the report was against the sale of the airport saying it "would result in council losing control immediately for a one-off payment" and it "would not be in the public interest in terms of maintaining air services and assisting in the growth of the regional economy."

Ballina Council commercial services manager Paul Tsikleas said the idea of granting a lease would allow council to maintain control of the airport.

"You still maintain control because you can write into the lease document the performance criteria of what they've got to do," he said. "And if they don't adhere to it, well, we break the lease.

"That's why we're not interested in a sale, because you just lose all control."

Mr Tsikleas said putting the airport up for lease wouldn't result in fewer flights. If anything, the number of flights would increase as the lease holder could invest in new infrastructure.

"The more flights you get, the bigger the terminal you need, you need to have better apron facilities so you can cue planes up… and more car parking," he said.

The recommendation in Tuesday's agenda is for council to run a competitive tendering process to select a consultant to advise council on the various long term tenure options available and potential financial returns.

Mr Tsikleas said council may still decide to continue operating the airport after considering the alternatives.

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