Sunday, April 04, 2010

Inverell's problem with air services

I suppose that I have written a fair bit on this blog over time about both the history of civil aviation in New England and the problems involved in maintaining regional air services.

Part of the problem lies in the way economics works: every new requirement placed upon airlines and airports, every increase in charges at major airports, affects the economics of regional operations because the passenger base over which the costs and charges have to be spread is relatively small. I do wonder how much the latest safety requirements will add to the problem.

In recent years, Inverell has had a special problem.

Inverell is a moderate size town by New England standards. At the 2006 census the LGA population was 15,510 , the town population 9,749. For many years and when the town was a lot smaller, New England carrier East West Airlines maintained a daily Sydney service by linking Inverell and nearby Glen Innes (LGA population 8,780 at the 2006 census). Problems for Inverell really began when East West was taken over by the bigger and now defunct Ansett.

Inverell Council finally responded to the decline in air services by combining with Gunnedah Council further south to help create Big Sky Express as a community airline. Sadly, in 2006 Big Sky collapsed as a consequence of mismanagement in Transair, Big Sky's managing airline.

Early in 2007, Council persuaded another New England carrier, Newcastle based Aeropelican, to fly to Inverell. Aeropelican, itself an airline that had been almost destroyed via Ansett acquisition, was looking to expand its northern routes. The traffic wasn't there, and Aeropelican retreated, leaving Inverell without an air service.

Inverell's problem lies in part in its size, in part in its location. Inverell is an eight hour drive from Sydney. The nearest airports are at Tamworth (3 hours away), Armidale (1 hour 50 minutes) and Moree (1 hour 50 minutes). There are no services now to nearby Glen Innes. Brisbane at 5 hours 40 minutes driving time is far closer than Sydney, but state structures mean that Inverell people generally have to deal with Sydney.

The absence of air connections creates a real problem in attracting business to Inverell. This had led the Mayor to propose that Inverell should actually buy its own aeroplane to operate services. This has come under attack from some rate payers for reasons I understand. Yet without an air service, Inverell will continue to suffer disadvantage.

Inverell's size and particular location could well justify a Sydney Government subsidy on regional development grounds. This is not going to happen. In its absence, Inverell Council is going to have to continue to search for solutions.

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