A senate committee report on regional airfares released last week uncovered the complexity that comes with delivering air services on a small scale.
The frustration of regional residents was evident throughout the inquiry, as poor economies of scale have resulted in little competition between airlines, and less choice of when to fly and at what cost.
Those same economies of scale are at the heart of the challenges faced by regional airports, who are facing rising operational and compliance costs and significant financial strain.
The senate committee has highlighted these challenges in its final report.
Among its recommendations is a call for a detailed financial analysis of the impact of changing government security requirements on regional airports.
The Australian Airports Association (AAA) agrees this is an essential and urgent task.
While Federal funding will be provided for regional airports to purchase screening equipment to meet new requirements, in many cases this won’t cover the true cost of these changes.
For some regional airports, accommodating new equipment will require terminal changes to be completed, while extra staff may be needed once these arrangements are in place.
Last year, a AAA survey of its regional airport members found at least $25 million in new infrastructure investment would be needed to accommodate new security requirements in the regions.
This is in addition to the considerable ongoing operational costs of running security screening at regional airports, which can typically cost in excess of $1 million each year.
For regional airports with far fewer services than their city counterparts, these significant costs must be spread across a much smaller passenger base.
With more than 60 per cent of regional airports already running at a loss, many will simply be unable to fund increased security costs on their own.
Without a sustainable solution, these rising costs could cripple the viability of airports in communities that rely heavily on aviation connectivity.
That’s why the committee has recognised ongoing financial assistance may be needed for regional airports required to operate security screening. The AAA wholeheartedly supports the committee’s recommendation on this issue.
This assistance could be essential in maintaining a healthy regional aviation network, particularly in a very dynamic threat environment.
It’s important to recognise that airports across Australia are committed to maintaining our record as one of the safest and most secure aviation networks in the world.
The industry also supports the need to constantly review and improve our security measures to maintain pace with evolving threats.
However, this cannot be done in isolation of the commercial realities faced by the industry as it implements the Government’s requirements.
The AAA has been striving to work collaboratively with the Government and its agencies to ensure new security measures can be implemented in a practical and efficient manner.
For regional airports the key to success will be clear guidance, regulatory certainty and financial assistance for those that need it.
If Australia is committed to having a strong and secure national aviation network that connects our regions and major cities, the policy approach to aviation security needs to continue to evolve.
Regional airports are a critical part of our transport network and we must ensure they are given the opportunity to grow and thrive.
This article first appeared in The Australian on 14 June 2019, under the title ‘Securing regional airports’ future a costly logistical challenge’.
By Caroline Wilkie
About Caroline Wilkie
Caroline has been CEO of the Australian Airports Association since 2011.
The AAA represents all major regular passenger transport airports in Australia as well as council airports. The membership spans from councils with grass strip runways to Australia’s major gateways. The AAA also represents a further 140 corporate members. The AAA is engaged in research, developing industry publications, education, advocacy and major industry events.
Caroline has a Masters of Public Affairs and more than 15 years’ experience in Association Management.