UPGRADE TAKE OFF: MP Justine Elliot speaks to Ballina mayor David Wright about the need to upgrade the Ballina Byron Gateway Airport runway.
UPGRADE TAKE OFF: MP Justine Elliot speaks to Ballina mayor David Wright about the need to upgrade the Ballina Byron Gateway Airport runway. Marc Stapelberg

Airport investment a 'game changer' for Ballina

WHILE Labor has promised $10m towards upgrading the Ballina Byron Airport, the pledge falls $18m short of estimated costs needed to cater to a future fleet of aircraft.

In March, the council considered a report which deemed the airport's financial viability to be "at risk", allowing Ballina Shire mayor David Wright to continue lobbying over a proposed runway widening of 30-40m.

The runway and apron upgrades were estimated to cost some $28m in the coming years to cater to Jetstar's future fleet of Airbus A321 passenger jets.

Ballina Mayor David Wright said Richmond MP, Justine Elliot was the only politician to heed the council's call for financial help towards the upgrade.

"We wrote to every candidates from Page to Richmond... we gave a presentation to Justine and her team and they followed through very quickly," Cr Wright said.

"Thank you to Justine and our staff... it was a $10m limit on that (funding) and that is the reason why it's only $10m.

"To get the full amount is amazing. It's future proofing it for the people and young people here now who can remain here and get all these jobs."

Cr Wright said owning an airport was extremely expensive and would force the council to seek loans and more funding grants to make up the further $18m needed to complete the upgrades.

"Council will provide at least a further $10m towards the upgrade," he said.

"It might be done in stages, we might widen the runway and then do the aprons but without this we couldn't even start... but with this we can get started straight away."

Ms Elliot said the investment was a"game changer" for Ballina.

"If Labor wins the election, pushing the funding through would be one of the first items on the agenda that I talk with Bill Shorten about," Ms Elliot said.

"This vital funding will enable the widening and strengthening of the runway which is a crucial part of Ballina Byron Gateway Airport's capacity to accommodate future domestic aircraft from Airbus and Boeing.

"Most importantly, upgrading the Ballina Byron Gateway Airport will boost economic activity and jobs growth right across the region.

Acting airport manager Terry Christmas said he would like to see the new runways up and running for the larger planes in about 12 months.

"The widening of the runway will certainly increases the potential for the airline to add roots to this location," Mr Christmas said.

"What it really means is as we move forward and the types of planes change it just allows them to be sure we will be ready to take any type of planes they choose to send here."

He said the airport's relationship would remain strong with Jetstar regardless if the upgrade goes ahead or not.



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