Wednesday, December 06, 2006

A Civil Aviation Policy for New England

In my last post I spoke of New England's civil aviation woes.

Anybody who has read this blog will know my complaint that the absence of a formal structure for New England - essentially statehood - prevents New England's problems being dealt with in a coordinated fashion.

In my previous posts on New England and the NSW Government's Ten Year Plan (here 1, here 2, here 3) I suggested that the Plan failed in part because it did not address New England's needs in an integrated fashion and that indeed it could not because of the way Government was structured.

Similar issues arise in civil aviation, an issue that was not addressed in the Plan.

Under the Australian constitution, the states have responsibility for intra-state aviation. In theory, they can regulate this to their heart's content. In practice they face a number of problems:

  1. A significant proportion of civil aviation is interstate. Indeed, over 99 per cent of New England's scheduled services ate interstate in that they go beyond New England's boundaries.
  2. The rules laid down under National Competition Policy impede what any state can do.
  3. Aviation industry structure is now largely national. The days of major carriers focused on particular states or areas within a state are largely gone.

These limitations do not mean that a state Government cannot do something. Consider the following:

  1. At present, the majority of New England's international air traffic goes in and out through Sydney, to a lesser extent through Brisbane. In the 1990s Coffs Harbour attempted to establish limited international flights to New Zealand. Whether New England should attempt to build direct international flights is uncertain, but the issue of international travel at least needs to be addressed in the context of a New England tourism strategy.
  2. At present, many New England air travellers have to use Kingsford Smith Airport in Sydney as a hub. Again in the 1990s, Impulse tried to build Newcastle as a hub before becoming distracted by its broader ambitions. Should New England consider the development of New England hubbing activities? Or the development of rival hubs outside New England?
  3. Parts of New England have very poor air connections with Brisbane. Growth in South East Queensland makes Brisbane a rival for Sydney for many services. What can be done to improve air connections with Brisbane?
  4. More broadly, many parts of New England have poor air services to begin with. There are also very limited internal connections. In fact, both areas are worse today than they were thirty years ago. What might be done to improve the situation?

In considering these questions I think that it is important to remember that Sydney and New England are in fundamental if presently unequal economic competition. New England wants to attract people and investment that would otherwise go to Sydney.

Sydney has a Government to look after it. You only have to look at the Sydney weighting in the NSW Ten Year Plan to see this. New England does not. In these circumstances, it is up to New Englanders to try to articulate a different and coordinated view about New England's needs.

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