Airport may get a lift
By Dawn Cohen
Vanessa Knight-Hannan wants to keep the BallinaByron Gateway Airport exactly as it is.
"It is cute and quiet," said the media producer as she boarded a plane for Sydney yesterday.
"It is not the city, and that's what I like about it."
The Suffolk Park resident is unlikely to get her way.
Business is booming for Ballina Shire Council's airport and facilities are strained. Passenger numbers have trebled in the past year, with about 200,000 passengers streaming through the formerly quiet country airport.
The business lounge is under-utilised, the one-sided baggage carousel can't cope with arrival numbers from big jets and the departure lounge gets overcrowded, council staff say.
At its general meeting today the council is expected to approve a review of the amenities.
"It's a good problem to have," Mayor Philip Silver said.
Security facilities will also be reviewed.
While current legislation compels larger planes to use security measures, new laws may require similar procedures of smaller regional flights.
"We are one of few regional airports with the X-ray and hand baggage security to make large jets secure," Cr Silver said.
"That may need to be extended."
The council hopes to access funds from a $1 million Federal Government grant for security upgrades at regional airports, council general manager John Christopherson said.
Illegal parking at the airport by coaches and taxis is already being targeted to im- prove the flow of traffic, and 75 more parking spots are under construction.
Andrew Jeavons, executive engineer for the airport, said the review will explore short-term needs for internal layout, but won't expand the building.
"Our long-term vision, looking at 10 to 20 years, could include specialised car park areas and the possibility of increasing aircraft numbers and terminal extensions," he said.
"In that situation we would not add a level but expand at ground level."
Right now, Harry Aristou's longing is for air-conditioning.
"In the summer everybody suffers," said the owner of the airport coffee shop, Cafe Horizon.
He would also like to see increased signage.
"People arrive and don't know where to go," he said. "It is a terrific idea to upgrade the facilities.
"We are not a sleepy country airport any more.
"When we started the cafe in 2003 it was just my wife and a girl running it. Now, when it's busy we have six staff and still can't keep up."
Don Conson, chair of the Ballina Chamber of Commerce, was surprised the council didn't wait to ensure the growth created by new flights was sustainable before considering an upgrade of airport facilities.
"The fact that they have not is excellent for Ballina business," he said.