Ballina Byron Gateway Airport which is presently undergoing a $6.9 million upgrade.
Ballina Byron Gateway Airport which is presently undergoing a $6.9 million upgrade. Marc Stapelberg

Ballina's 'biggest asset' at risk without $28m upgrade

BALLINA Shire Council will continue to lobby for funding after a report found the region's airport could be at risk.

Councillors considered a report from staff regarding the Ballina Byron Gateway Airport's long term financial plan and a proposed widening of its runway from 30 to 40 metres at its finance committee meeting on Wednesday.

Staff had recommended they allow mayor David Wright to continue lobbying the State and Federal Governments over a proposed runway widening.

This is estimated to cost just over $23 million, while related works to strengthen the airport's apron would require about $5.3 million.

The upgrades would cater for Jetstar's future fleet as the airline prepares to replace its Airbus A320 passenger jets with larger A321 models.

Airport manager Paul Tsikleas addressed councillors regarding the ongoing $6.9 million in terminal upgrades and their vision for the future.

He said they hoped the airport would "continue to be one of the most successful regional airports in Australia" in 2020 and beyond.

But the council had previously missed out on funding through the Federal Government's Building Better Regions Fund.

Councillor Ben Smith asked Mr Tsikleas if widening the runway was crucial for the airport's future.

"It won't be something that's sudden," Mr Tsikleas said.

"It won't be from next year, but as they increase their fleet of A321s, the opportunities of sending a plane to Ballina reduces."

The council has previously opted not to lease out the airport, and Mr Tsikleas told The Northern Star this week there was so far no plan to change this.

But Cr Eoin Johnston asked, given the airport's financial viability was deemed to be "at risk", what the downside of such action would be.

Ms Tsikleas said there would be "pros and cons".

Cr Wright said he'd had eight meetings about the project, including with the Deputy Prime Minister and Premier.

"They want to see something really happen," he said.

"This is the biggest asset our shire's got. The business is coming.

"We've got a very good airport. That's why we got over a million visitors."

The region attracted more than one million visitors for the first time in the 2017/18 fiscal year.

Councillors unanimously agreed to allow Cr Wright to further lobby for funding, which council staff have suggested matching on a 50/50 basis with loans.

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