City airport future up in air

MONOPOLY: Regional Express is the only commercial passenger carrier at Mount Gambier Airport.
MONOPOLY: Regional Express is the only commercial passenger carrier at Mount Gambier Airport.

GRANT District Council has not ruled out privatising the Mount Gambier Airport as part of a fresh investigation into the regional airfield’s future.

The decision to explore its management structure follows passenger numbers remaining static and federal funding hopes to pursue a multi-million-dollar overhaul of the facility.

Figures released show more than 60,000 passengers have boarded Regional Express flights this financial year, which is similar to 2015/16.

At its peak, the airport attracted 117,000 passengers in 2007, but these figures started crashing after the collapse of O’Connor Airlines.

At council’s full meeting, councillors agreed to push ahead with a discussion paper on the airport’s future.

“Nothing is off the table – it is an opportunity to look at it from a clean slate,” council chief executive Trevor Smart told The Border Watch.

“If someone came along tomorrow and said ‘we want to buy the airport’, you would have a look at it, but I don’t know if you would agree to that.

“We haven’t got a mindset on the pathway we should go.”

He said the investigation aimed to ensure the airport was positioned so it could capture future growth in regards to activity and services.

“As the owner and operator of the Mount Gambier Airport, council should always retain a controlling interest in the airport – subject to any proposals,” Mr Smart said.

He said any partnership or co-investment proposals should be viewed on this basis.

Given the $10m funding project application lodged with the Federal Government, he said it was “time” to explore other management options.

“The City of Mount Gambier funding offer of up to $1m was contingent on a different management structure,” Mr Smart said.

He said the airport’s current advisory committee consisted of council representatives, Regional Express and the aero club.

Mr Smart said council should particularly canvass the Mildura Airport, which was overseen by an independent management board.

Meanwhile, the council chief said passenger numbers had continued to stabilise this year, but were showing no signs of significant long-term improvement.

“Passenger numbers went up 16pc in April and then May looks like they are slightly down, but they are holding their own,” he said.

Total numbers will not be known until the end of the financial year.

“But even with the current numbers, the airport is still financially viable,” said Mr Smart, who explained the airport was on track to post up to a $90,000 profit this financial year.

Conceding this was not a “huge amount”, he said it was enough to quarantine money in the airport reserve fund.

Mr Smart said he was expecting the outcome of the Federal Government funding application would be known in July or

He said this would see a $10m redevelopment of the airfield, not the $17m project that was first mooted.

Mr Smart said a larger project risked making the airport financially non-viable.

Grant District Council is responsible for the ongoing finances, operations and development of the airport.