The runway at Ballina Byron Gateway Airport.
The runway at Ballina Byron Gateway Airport. Marc Stapelberg

Airport 'at risk' without government funding

HOPES of a promised $10 million towards much-needed upgrades to the Ballina Byron Gateway Airport have been dashed, forcing the council to reassess funding options.

But Ballina Shire mayor David Wright remains hopeful the council can upgrade the facility even in lieu of the funds Richmond MP Justine Elliot said her party would deliver if it formed government.

A council report earlier this year said the airport's financial viability was "at risk" without a $28m upgrade to its runway and aircraft apron.

Staff recommended at least half of that sum be funded through grants, the remainder with loans.

The runway will need to be widened from its current 30m to 45m, to allow Jetstar's future fleet of Airbus A321s to take off and land there.

Jetstar users currently make up 77 per cent of airline passengers passing through the airport's gates.

The council has previously failed to get a grant through the Federal Government's Building Better Regions Fund.

But Cr Wright is confident the current business case, and the state of ongoing upgrades to the terminal, will boost its chances in the future.

"We definitely need (funding). We can't do it by ourselves," Cr Wright said.

"I'm quite certain ... if our case doesn't make it there must be some pretty good opportunities around Australia because ours is fantastic."

The council's general manager, Paul Hickey, said staff would continue to push for support from state and federal funding streams.

"From our perspective, it's a good project for the region," Mr Hickey said.

"It's a growing region and an excellent project."

Mr Hickey said the council would like the project to be finalised within the next five years to ensure the region didn't fall behind.

According to the council's report, Ballina's airport is "the only major eastern seaboard airport (where the runway) is not 45m wide".

A spokeswoman for Ms Elliot's office said she would "continue to support the council in their endeavour to get grants".

Virgin Australia has meanwhile announced it expects its earnings for the 2019 fiscal year to be down $100m compared to the previous year, but a spokeswoman told The Northern Star the scaling back of regional flights would minimally impact Ballina.

She said the airline's daily return service between Sydney and Ballina would be retained while only two additional return services for the month of July had been cancelled.

Ballina Shire councillors will this week consider whether they should approve a variation of a contract with Woollam Constructions to include roof replacement and entry plaza construction as part of a terminal upgrade.



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