‘Give us more muscle’: Council considers airport shake up

22nd December 2017 3:50 PM
An Alliance Airlines plan touching down in Gladstone. An Alliance Airlines plan touching down in Gladstone. Paul Braven GLA170717ALLIANCE

A MERGER with other regional airports could give Gladstone's council the muscle it needs to bargain for new, affordable flight routes.

The Queensland Treasury Corporation is leading talks between Gladstone, Central Highlands and Fraser Coast regional councils, for a joint arrangement for the ownership of each region's airports.

Gladstone Region mayor Matt Burnett said after 18 months of discussion, all three councils agreed to move to the next stage.

The QTC is preparing a due diligence report into the merger, which Cr Burnett said could be delivered within six months.

He said if it goes ahead, the council would be better equipped to negotiate with airlines.

"This could give us more muscle when we're talking to flight companies," he said.

Keen to see the return of the north Queensland 'milk run' from Gladstone, Cr Burnett said it was not good enough that Gladstone Airport had only one route to Brisbane.

Member for Gladstone Glenn Butcher and Gladstone region Mayor Matt Burnett with the community groups that successfully took a share in the $6 million Works for Queensland program.
Gladstone Region Mayor Matt Burnett believes a merger with Central Highlands and Fraser Coast councils-owned airports would give them more bargaining power with airlines. Mike Richards GLA190717WORK

He said the three councils could negotiate deals like flights from Gladstone to Rockhampton, Hervey Bay to Rockhampton and Emerald to Mackay, once a week to bring back the north Queensland route.

QantasLink dropped its Gladstone to Rockhampton service in March 2014 due to low passenger numbers, but Cr Burnett said the flights were expensive.

In November 2014 Jetgo started a direct service between Gladstone and Sydney, but the service was suspended by February 2015.

Cr Burnett stressed this would not prompt an airport sale.

"I would like to stress this is not a sale, it's joining forces, and we would be the major shareholder for the future prospects," he said yesterday.

"We want in the constitution that (the airports) can't be sold without a unanimous decision."

three other councils at Whitsunday, Bundaberg and Rockhampton have opted against moving forward with negotiations.

However, Bundaberg and Whitsunday are "watching with interest".

Cr Neil Fisher at Rockhampton airport with a 747 on the tarmac.
Cr Neil Fisher at Rockhampton airport with a 747 on the tarmac. Allan Reinikka ROK260717a747airp

Councillor and Rockhampton Airport chairman Neil Fisher said they were already working collaboratively with eight other airports owned by central Queensland councils.

He said the CQ Airport Owners Group, which he is the chairman of, would continue to rally for an east to west route within regional Queensland next year.

"We've been working collaboratively the last few years and we've had a number of successes with regards to dealings with the airlines," he said.

Cr Fisher said a Gladstone Airport Corporation board member attended meetings, but not a Gladstone regional councillor.

He said the proposed partnership between councils could see airport boards becoming more "corporate-styled".

Cr Burnett said the new corporation would take on the Gladstone Airport's $53 million debt. As an example he said the deal could give the council a $20 - 30 million dividend, which it could use to pay down the debt.

If it goes ahead the deal would likely mean a new airport board would be appointed.

Gladstone Airport Corporation's board members were appointed in July this year, including the new chairman Adrienne Ward.

"We have a very good board and we want our board members to be involved in any new organisation," Cr Burnett said.