Regional airports such as Latrobe Regional Airport a priority for RCA

Regional Capitals Australia's delegation met with federal government minister Catherine King in Canberra last month. Photos: Contributed

Stefan Bradley

LATROBE Regional Airport, along with other regional airports, should be front and centre of federal policy, Regional Capitals Australia said in its 2024 federal budget submission, following meetings in Canberra last month.

The chair of Regional Capitals Australia (RCA) and Albury City Council Mayor, Kylie King, said while regional airports were critical to the nation’s economy and security, about 60 per cent of regional airports operated at a loss due to ageing infrastructure, rising security and regulatory burdens and staffing costs.

RCA was formed in 2012 to bring Australia’s 51 regional capital cities together as one unified voice.

Use of the Latrobe Airport.

“Unfortunately, regional councils are feeling the pinch due to increasing costs of delivery across the board, and they can no longer afford to pick up the shortfall,” Cr Kylie King said.

“The Victorian regional airports of Geelong, Ballarat and Latrobe provide a critical role in border protection, medivac, defence and disaster response, and it’s only reasonable that the federal government contribute to their ongoing operations.”

Latrobe Airport is one of the case studies featured in RCA’s Regional Airports Policy, and outlines challenges and opportunities it faces.

The report says that regulation and security accounts for 20 per cent of Latrobe Airport’s expenses, leading to high operating costs of the airport as well as capital upgrades required to meet safety and regulatory standards. Resources to upgrade essential facilities and infrastructure are not sufficient, with the RCA report saying Latrobe City Council is “hamstrung” and unable to invest more.

With wild weather events affecting the region, including Wellington Shire, many locals believe it is vital that Latrobe Airport is equipped for disaster response.

As the Latrobe Valley transitions away from relying on coal, the report sees increasing commercial flights for FIFO workers as a significant growth opportunity. The airport also provides services for RAAF cadets and a range of commercial charter, tourist and light aircraft operations.

An RCA delegation in Canberra last month met the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government, Catherine King.

Cr Kylie King told the Gippsland Times the meetings in Canberra were productive.

“Regional Capitals Australia has been advocating strongly to the federal government for greater investment for regional airports, in the lead up to the release of the Aviation White Paper – expected mid year,” she said.

“The Aviation White Paper aims to set the long-term policies out toward 2050, so it is critical for the long-term direction of regional airports and regional economies more generally.”

RCA says that regional airports are key gateways for the movement of Victoria’s FIFO workforce, air freight, business travel and the growth of new jobs and aviation industries.

“We are concerned that unless the federal government steps in, Victoria’s regional airports will be deemed unviable, putting the handbrake on regional growth and our nation’s health and security at risk,” Cr King said.

The delegation met with Anthony Chisolm, the Assistant Minister for Regional Development to talk about the importance of regional airports such as Latrobe.