Airports are widely recognised as essential public infrastructure assets, generating significant benefits for local communities. However, for these benefits to be realised, it is vital that airports be planned under the lens of sustainability. With many regional airports predicted to experience significant growth in the future and associated expansion requirements, it’s imperative for these airports to implement sustainable processes and frameworks to help safeguard for the future.
CHALLENGES WITH REGIONAL AIRPORTS
Since 2005, passenger movements at regional airports have increased drastically from 8.5 million to 15 million in 2017. To ensure that regional airports are prepared to cope with growing passenger movements, it is important for such airports to engage in long-term, sustainable planning. Poor planning of airports can lead to a range of problems, including, but not limited to, operational restrictions, amenity impacts for local residents and airport closure in extreme cases. As the saying goes: fail to plan, plan to fail.
With the rise of inbound traffic, regional airport owners (usually Local Governments) need to consider how prepared they are to cope with increased traffic. Are current infrastructures, such as runways, taxiways and terminals, prepared to host larger aircraft? Are airport amenities ready to accommodate more people? Is the technology being used to facilitate operational efficiencies? However, not all responsibilities are to be burdened solely on Local Government airport owner and operators. State and Commonwealth Government Authorities also have a role to play, ensuring appropriate funding for Local Governments, support of planning schemes, airport protection of airspace, as well as broader considerations of planning and funding for accommodation and attractions for inbound travellers.
Differing from federally leased airports, which are required under the Airports Act 1996 to devise, plan and implement a 20 year Master Plan every 5 years, there is no such requirement for regional airports. The result is that Local Government planning often just focuses on strategic and regional planning, with the regional airport inheriting a historic land use designation. This has resulted in a widespread lack of master planning for regional airports.
While a number of regional airports do produce master plans, there is little consistency between them and no obligatory requirement to update them on a regular basis. With little to no regulation, it is easy for regional airports to neglect or overlook the non-compulsory, but no less essential, task of implementing sustainable and future driven airport plans. More often than not, it is not until issues arise or significant challenges begin to evolve that the importance of planning becomes evident in regional airports, with such challenges being otherwise avoidable with a comprehensive and effectively implemented plan.
SAFEGUARDING FOR THE FUTURE
While some regions struggle to respond to the challenges resulting from their transitioning economies, others are flourishing. To ensure that your regional airport is ready to flourish in Australia’s current and future aviation climate, it’s important to consider current and forecasted industry changes and how your airport is and will be prepared to embrace those changes.
Regional airports need to consider how they will adapt to changes associated with growth, technological advancements, as well as operations that will aid in producing revenue to sustain long-term airport activity. With the Australian Airports Association estimating as many as 50% of regional airports in Australia may be running at a loss, an airport Master Plan can provide local government authorities with an opportunity to plan for non-aeronautical uses of their airport to increase revenue and diversify their income.
Through the implementation of a Master Plan, regional airports can be enabled to establish long-term goals. Regular update periods for Master Plans – for instance, five years – would help ensure continual adaptation for changing externalities. For regional airports, this may be a daunting and time-consuming task, especially if such capabilities and resources are lacking in-house. However, through partnering with consultancies, who have the ability, resources and capability to provide support to both airport operators and local Councils alike, you can help safeguard your regional airport against future industry changes.
To learn more about how The Airport Group has partnered with regional airports to provide long-term, sustainable plans, view some of our recent projects here > http://theairportgroup.com.au/projects/
 Australian Airports Association. (2017). Regional airports: Contributing to and connecting our communities. Retrieved from http://airportprofessional.asn.au/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/171019_Factsheet_AAA.pdf
 Australian Airports Association. (2014). Regional airport master planning guideline: Airport practice note 4. Retrieved from https://airports.asn.au/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/Airport-Practice-Note-4-Regional-Airport-Master-Planning-Guideline.pdf
 Australian Government Department of Infrastructure, Regional Development and Cities. (2018). Airport planning and regulation. Retrieved from https://infrastructure.gov.au/aviation/airport/planning/index.aspx