7 March, 2023
Users opposed to council move to privatise airport
BUSINESSES and operators at the Mareeba Airport and aviation industrial precinct have voiced their strong opposition to plans by Mareeba Shire Council to lease out the facility to a private entity, fearing it will lead to unacceptable higher fees and charges.
In January, council called for expressions of interest to manage, operate and develop the airport further, saying it was “not best placed to be in the business of developing the airport for the future”.
“Council is significantly constrained by budget and the community is unable to further fund economic development initiatives through additional rate increases,” a report to council stated.
“Therefore, council needs to look to private sector management with business development skills and financing capacity, to catalyse the opportunity that the Mareeba Airport offers for economic diversification of the Mareeba township and the broader region.”
But businesses and other users already established at the facility have described the move as “short-sighted” that will ultimately lead to job losses and would be a “huge loss to the ratepayers and greater community of Mareeba”.
“They do not understand the type of business and other activities conducted at the Mareeba Airport and the monumental negative effects that placing the airport into the hands of a private entity to manage will have on the existing businesses and stakeholders at the airport,” My Mareeba Airport Association president Graeme Normington said.
“A private entity or airport manager/operator is always profit driven and the council will have no influence on the fees and charges that they want to charge.
“The cost of the lease that the private entity / airport manager / operator has to pay the council will obviously have to be re-couped from those existing bus-nesses and stakeholders at the airport and, hence, higher costs to those existing operators.”
Mr Normington pointed to other similar airports that had been leased out by local councils, saying it had caused economic hardships to existing users who had invested large sums of money into their operations at those facilities.
“There has been evidence of exorbitant new lease agreements with increas-es up to 3,000 per cent in some cases,” he said.
“We are at risk of increased landing and parking fees that will deter pilots, business aircraft, and itinerant aircraft (stop overs in Mareeba) from making Mareeba Airport a destination – instead it will become one to avoid.”
He cited an example where a private airport manager had refused to renew a lease and had “simply resumed the hangars and locked out that business and/or stakeholder”.
“That is theft. The private airport manager stole the hangar from the business that invested heavily in buying or building their hanger to operate from. The business closed down and there were the job losses,” Mr Normington said.
He also accused the council of failing to properly consult with users before deciding to go out for expressions of interest, and failing to advertise or promote the airport to encourage more businesses to get on board.
“It has been stated by CEO Peter Franks that some $25 million has been spent on the development of the airport upgrade and there are only a few new hangars built,” Mr Normington said.
“I have searched through aviation magazines and websites linked to aviation and promoting aviation and I have not seen any advertising of the Mareeba Airport and its development to the aviation industry.
“You can’t expect people or businesses to relocate to Mareeba Airport if the council does not advertise and promote the airport and the great place it is to operate from.”
Mareeba Mayor Angela Toppin has held firm to council’s position that calling for EOIs to manage the facility is the right way to go, but noted that no final decision had yet been made.
“The EOI process is a call to the market to gauge the level of interest for the Mareeba Airport to be leased long-term, and to obtain feedback to explore the opportunity for the airport to be further developed,” she said.
“Council is undertaking this exercise to investigate opportunities at the airport to maximise the benefits to the entire community.
“The airport is an important community asset and council must ensure it provides benefits to the whole community.”
Mayor Toppin said council would review the proposals received, after EOIs close on 15 March.
“All proposals will be carefully scrutinised by council and those that are found to meet council’s objectives and offer significant community and economic benefits, would then be invited to move to Stage 2 and submit formal tenders for council’s consideration,” she said.
“I would like to reassure businesses and operators at the Mareeba Airport that council is taking this process step by step and no decisions have been made at this stage.”