Merimbula Airport’s financial operation “marginal” inquiry hears

The Upper House Standing Committee on State Development met in the Bega Valley Shire Council chamber to receive evidence on regional air services.The Upper House Standing Committee on State Development stopped at Bega Valley Shire Council chambers on Wednesday, June 11 as part of its investigation and report on passenger air services in regional areas.

The aim of the investigation is to secure more reliable air services particularly between regional areas and Sydney. However, in doing so the committee said that it wished to hear comment relating to the economics of regional passenger services, their effect on communities and possible future development of air services in regional centres.

The chair of the Standing Committee on State Development, Rick Colless MLC, said: “The committee was fortunate to receive evidence from councils including Bega Valley Shire Council, Eurobodalla Shire Council, and the Snowy Mountains Shire Council. Each council was able to provide a regional perspective of the issues faced by their communities in relation to regional aviation services.”

There have been 63 submissions made to the committee so far including one from Bega Valley Shire Council.

In the submission Bega Valley group manager infrastructure waste and water, Wayne Sartori, said: “The significance of aviation cannot be overstated in a remote regional community such as the Bega Valley, where the only alternate travel is via road.”

Mr Sartori pointed to the importance of regional air services in the provision of part time professional services such as medical and legal which without regional air services could not exist.

However Mr Sartori said that the financial operation of the airport remained “marginal” and highlighted the landing fees, currently $11 per passenger which while originally set to equal the operational expenses of the airport, had not been increased “for several years”.

Mr Sartori explained that he was not talking about any capital expenditure, such as infrastructural renewal or upgrade or any major maintenance which he said had to be funded by the shire’s ratepayers.

But Regional Express (Rex) the airline that services Merimbula, has been adamant that any move to increase passenger landing fees would adversely affect the company and bring into question the commercial viability of low traffic routes.

In his submission Mr Sartori accepted the need for greater passenger numbers stating that for Merimbula to remain viable it must increase beyond 80,000 a year but he said from council’s point of view there were a number of “significant hurdles”.

These included “competition restrictions resulting in high fare pricing, passenger screening for aircraft of 50 seats or more, focusing on business travellers rather than the leisure market” and the capital costs associated with airport infrastructure.

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