'AT RISK': Airport needs $30 million for upgrades
BALLINA Shire Council will have to find almost $30 million so its airport can cater to a future fleet of aircraft.
The Ballina Byron Gateway Airport is currently the only major facility of its kind on the eastern seaboard with a runway too small for the next fleet of Jetstar aircraft, according to a council report.
The council will consider possible upgrades to the airport's runway and apron at a finance committee meeting today.
The council report said the facility's financial viability was "at risk" due to the need to widen its runway, which is currently 30 metres wide.
Airport manager Paul Tsikleas said the proposal was to widen the runway to 45 metres to cater to larger aircraft.
With Jetstar accounting for 77 per cent of the airport's passenger numbers, and the airline upgrading its fleet to larger aircraft, Mr Tsikleas said the change was necessary if the airport is to continue being suitable for the airline.
"They're upgrading their fleet to larger aircraft and they need 45 metre runways," Mr Tsikleas said.
He said the runway was "up to speed now" in terms of its current requirements, but the upgrade would be needed in the next five to 10 years.
The runway widening is estimated to cost just over $23 million, while strengthening the airport apron - also to cater to the larger aircraft - would cost some $5.3 million.
The airport's existing 30 metre wide runway caters to Airbus A320 used by Jetstar and the Boeing 737-800 used by Virgin.
But Jetstar is upgrading its fleet to the A321, which is longer, can carry more passengers and requires a wider runway.
The council's report said the Ballina Byron Gateway Airport was now "the only major eastern seaboard airport (where the runway) is not 45 metres wide".
The report has recommended the council seek at least half of the cost of these works through grants, and the balance through loans.
Mr Tsikleas said funding the project in that way would mean it's financially viable for the shire.
"Without grant funds the project cannot proceed as council is not in a position to fully finance $30m worth of loan funds, as the repayments would undermine the financial viability of the airport," the council report said.
The council has previously unsuccessfully sought funding for this project through the Federal Government's Building Better Regions Fund Infrastructure Projects Stream.
Tsikleas said the council would continue to seek funding through future rounds of that scheme.