Airport numbers set to take off
EXTRA jet services and major infrastructure upgrades worth almost $20 million over the next six years will cement the importance of the Ballina-Byron Gateway Airport in the region.
Airport manager Neil Weatherson yesterday said an agreement had just been signed with Jetstar to increase the weekly services by three jets each year for three years.
That means the airline will be flying 19 jets a week in and out of Ballina, instead of 10, by the end of the agreement.
"This is guaranteed future growth for our airport," he said.
"Flights to Newcastle could also be increased from daily services to double-daily services."
And with the Melbourne route looking strong with 90% loads for the past six months, that service could also be expanded in the future.
Mr Weatherson confirmed he was investigating other route options.
"We could do the Brisbane fly-in, fly-out market," he said.
"You've also got to consider places such as Canberra and Adelaide.
"We are definitely on track to reach our vision, which is 500,000 passengers by 2015/16."
The airport could eventually accommodate 900,000 passengers.
But first it will need major upgrades and that will cost a lot of money.
Ballina Shire Council, at this week's finance committee meeting, agreed to apply for a $7 million loan for the airport under the State Gov- ernment's new Local Infrastructure Renewal Scheme.
It gives councils a 4% interest subsidy to cover the cost of borrowing for infrastructure backlogs.
The airport is in need of new runway overlay, expected to cost about $7 million.
Work is earmarked to start in the 2013/14 financial year.
Under the scheme, the council could save $280,000 a year for 10 years, or $2.8 million.
Mr Weatherson said the renewal of the runway was an important project.
"Every 10 to 12 years you really need to do a runway overlay," he said.
"This is about protecting our main asset. If we don't have a runway, we don't have a business.
"We are doing some tests and designs at the moment so that when the loan is approved we will be ready to start work."
Next financial year the main project will be continuing the apron extension, for which the airport received a $3.5 million grant.
Once passenger numbers hit 350,000 a year, the airport will also need to install the utilities and infrastructure for a fire-fighting service.
In the 2017/18 financial year, a major refurbishment and upgrade to the terminal building is expected to cost about $8 million.
It would double the size of the terminal.
"We have got some major things in the pipeline," Mr Weatherson said.
"Growth has been pretty good and I'm expecting more growth."