Annual Report Essay

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Transport Policy 24 (2012) 232–239

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Remote, rural, and regional airports in Australia
Paul Donehue, Douglas Baker n
Department of Built Environment and Engineering, School of Urban Development, Queensland University of Technology, 3 George Street, GPO Box 2434, Brisbane, Queensland 4001, Australia

a r t i c l e i n f o
Available online 2 October 2012 Keywords: Remote Rural and regional airports Deregulation Economic development Local government

a b s t r a c t
This paper provides an overview of the challenges faced by remote, rural and regional airports in Australia. The deregulation of airports over the past decades has resulted in local councils owning most of the rural and regional airports across Australia. The paper provides an overview of the international literature on regional airports and research directed at defining the issues faced by regional and rural airports in Australia. A survey of airport managers, regulators and local councils was undertaken across Australia to outline the challenges and stresses that regional airports are facing. Core findings indicate that the operation of rural and regional airports is under stress due to the interrelating factors of infrastructure costs, high cost of maintenance, and security infrastructure upgrades. Small airports often compete with one another to attract airlines and maintain their infrastructure advantage. & 2012 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

1. Introduction One of the most striking aspects of the Australian built environment is the enormous distances that often exist between population centres. Achieving connectivity between these widely distributed towns and cities has been one of the major challenges facing Australian policy makers. Aviation, with its’ unique capacity to provide rapid transport between dispersed centres has long been recognised as a critically important response to the intrinsic challenges imposed by Australian settlement patterns. A network of approximately 138 airports remains in remote, rural, and regional (RRR) areas to take advantage of the capability of aircraft to provide access and connections to the broader community (BITRE, 2008). Predominantly owned by local governments, but with a growing level of private ownership, these RRR airports provide high speed connections between towns and cities, access to markets for a range of high value goods, are important in ensuring equity of access to services, are critical to national security and disaster relief, and provide an important gateway for tourism and the economic benefits that it brings to rural areas. However, despite their importance RRR airports face a number of serious challenges. A process of deregulation and devolution of Federal government responsibility has left their management and ongoing development largely in the hands of local governments, that often lack the financial and human resources to fulfil this role in a sustainable manner. The aviation industry globally has seen

Corresponding author. Tel.: þ61 07 3138 2505; fax: þ61 07 3138 1827. E-mail addresses: (P. Donehue), (D. Baker). 0967-070X/$ - see front matter & 2012 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.


tremendous volatility over the last three decades, and Australian RRR aviation has been no exception, with a number of operators going out of business leaving airports without carriers, and new pressure being brought to bear on airports that are increasingly being forced to compete with one another to attract airlines that aggressively scout for the most advantageous deal. The number of RRR airports serving rural Australia has dropped dramatically over the last 25 years with 268 active airports in 1985 to the present 138 airports in 2008. In contrast to the decrease in airports, the total number of passengers