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Regional airports seeking to upgrade their existing facilities will be able to apply for a share of $33.7 million in federal government funding.
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development Warren Truss has announced a fresh allocation of funds for the government’s Remote Airstrip Upgrade Programme.
Truss said on Saturday the $33.7 million in grants to regional airports for safety and access upgrades would be available from the start of 2015/16 and be spread over the next four years.
“Many communities in remote Australia depend on air services for essential supplies, mail, passenger transport and medical care, especially if their roads become unusable because of the weather,” Truss said in a statement.
“The funding will be available to repair and upgrade runway surfaces, safety equipment such as runway lighting and navigation aids, and infrastructure such as fences and gates.”
In 2014, there were 42 projects that received a combined $9 million in funding under the Remote Airstrip Upgrade Programme.
The Australian Airports Association (AAA) and Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS), who along with the Australian Local Government Association (ALGA) have been lobbing for the continuation of the existing scheme, welcomed the news.
AAA chief executive Caroline Wilkie said the desperately needed funds would ensure many regional and remote airports would remain operational in order to provide essential air links.
“Without access to this essential government support, many regional and remote airports would be unable to finance the critical runway and infrastructure upgrades that are essential for community services such as the Royal Flying Doctor,” Wilkie said in a statement.
“Beyond their immediate economic footprint, airports play an important social role in connecting individuals, families and communities with the rest of the country by providing critical infrastructure links to our regional and remote communities.
RFDS chief executive Martin Laverty said the new funding package would help keep airstrips safe by sealing runways, installing standby power and improved lighting, building vehicle safety barriers and adding fencing.
“Kangaroos, emus and other animals can cause tremendous damage when airstrips are unfenced. Today’s announcement will allow practical improvements to airstrips that remote residents rely on,” Laverty said in a statement.
Separately, the federal government said it had also provided an extra $5.9 million over the next three years towards the Remote Air Services Subsidy Scheme.
Truss said the funding boost supplemented the $50.9 million already allocated to the scheme, which supports weekly air services to remote and isolated parts of Australia such as cattle stations or indigenous communities that rely on air services for food, medical supplies and educational materials, over the next four years.
“This funding will help remote and isolated communities across Australia to maintain vital air access,” Truss said.
“It will allow the network of essential scheduled flights provided for communities to be maintained.”
The Department of Infrastructure website says there were currently six operators serving 260 remote communities across Western Australia, Northern Territory, Queensland, Tasmania and South Australia.