Alice airport could close in major flood

4.5% downturn expected this year but investment continues

 

By KIERAN FINNANE

 

The Alice Springs Airport could not be guaranteed to remain open in the case of a major flood cutting access to the town through Heavitree Gap.

Mayor Damien Ryan put the question to the airport’s general manager Katie Cooper when she made a presentation to council on Monday night about the airport’s contribution to the Alice economy.

If Heavitree Gap were cut off by major floodwaters, road and rail links from the south would be severed. It seems also that air links could be restricted or could cease because of the difficulty of getting airport staff from their homes in town to their workplace.

Ms Cooper told councillors that the intention would be to maintain staffing levels and operations, but she could not give a “100%” guarantee. For example, if the flood occurred in the middle of the night, getting people to the airport “might be a challenge,” she said.

Meanwhile, Ms Cooper said the Alice airport contributes 0.4% to the NT GSP (gross state product). Slow steady growth of annual passenger movements is forecast: from 630,000 in 2009, projected to grow to 940,000 by 2029. A decline of around 4.5% on previous years is expected this year, however. The 20 year old facility was built to cater for up to two million passenger movements a year, so there is room for much more rapid growth, which Ms Cooper said NT Airports is bent on chasing.

She said bringing in scheduled international services is unlikely on the basis of current usage, but NT Airports “actively seeks partnerships with airlines,” with representatives attending the global route conferences each year. Charter flights from overseas have gone into abeyance.

Again Ms Cooper said NT Airports is keen to make use of the facilities to receive them. Currently the aircraft tug and other facilities are in storage, costing the airport money.

Ms Cooper said one of things “against us” is the high Aussie dollar, although that’s a country-wide problem. She said more positive stories about Alice as a destination “would be useful,” mentioning as “not very helpful” the recent London Times article, describing Alice as “cursed by alcohol” and as a town “where even the security guards live in fear”.

Slow growth aside, investment in the airport is continuing and commercial opportunities for its assets are being sought. The Alice airport now has its own iPhone app, the second airport in Australia to have one, following Darwin (also owned by the NT Airports). $8m is about to be spent on apron overlay, following the $10m runway overlay in 2009.

She also mentioned the Remote Towers trial (of the air traffic control centre operating from Adelaide) as representing a “significant investment” by Air Services Australia. This is expected to start at Alice Springs in late 2012.

On the boneyard, announced to fanfare in May this year, she said Asia Pacific Aircraft Storage is out looking for clients. She is hoping that work will start on building the facility later this year, with the airport apron overlay possibly offering an advantage of asphalting “synergies” for the boneyard project.

She said it is not clear how the tourist potential of the facility could be managed, given that it will have direct access to the airport runway, but she said some of the USA boneyards have “quite a big tourist market”. She did not know how may jobs would be involved in the boneyard operations.

The airport is continuing to work with the NT Government on the extension of the Kilgariff subdivision into airport land. An MOU exists and a further agreement is being worked on. Ms Cooper described this as a “long-term project”.

 

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