Confirmation of passenger flights to and from the Eastern States is still looming with an airline yet to commit flying into the Busselton Margaret River Airport.
Despite the setback, City of Busselton chief executive officer Mike Archer remains confident it will be only a matter of weeks before an announcement is made.
Mr Archer said while negotiations looked favourable, they remained ongoing at this point in time and a formal memorandum of understanding had not been signed with an airline provider.
“There has been significant interest shown in the facility by both interstate and international providers and meetings are ongoing,” he said.
“We remain optimistic that a commercial arrangement will be formalised with an airline provider(s) in the forthcoming weeks with the view to commencing passenger services directly to and from the Eastern States toward the end of this year.”
Detailed design work associated with the new terminal has been completed and underground services were installed but the project has faced delays.
Mr Archer said construction of the terminal building was on hold pending direction from the Regional Development Minister Alannah MacTiernan.
Earlier this year, the Ms MacTiernan said it seemed prudent to await an outcome from airlines before the state government committed further expenditure on the airport upgrade.
After the state government were elected last year, a value optimisation review was conducted on the airport upgrade which had received funding from the previous government.
In 2015, nearly $60 million of funding was announced for the airport upgrade, with $45.9 million of the funding coming from Royalties for Regions Growing Our South Fund.
The Department of Transport provided $10 million, City of Busselton $3.5 million and the South West Development Commission $300,000. The project was set to be complete by mid 2018.
Mr Archer said the airport expansion project received significant funding from the Australian Governments Community Development Grant Program; the State Governments Royalties for Regions Program and the Department of Transports Regional Airports Development Scheme (RADS) Program. The South West Development Commission and Tourism Western Australia also contributed as did the City of Busselton. The project is fully funded.”
South West MLC Steve Thomas said the focus of the airport should be freight, and the funding announced by the federal government in 2016 was predicated on freight transport rather than passengers.
He was concerned that this pivotal part of the project was not receiving the priority it needed to underpin the entire proposal.
“The current focus on passenger flights underlines the threat by the State Government to defer the funding for the airport terminal, as highlighted by Regional Development Minister Alannah MacTiernan,” he said.
“She has said publicly, “the council had agreed not to go ahead with the terminal building until a major airline has been signed”* and told Parliament she expected a response regarding passenger services from airlines in March. I understand this timeframe has been extended to the end of April.
“There has already been a $1.4 million reduction in state funding which the City has agreed to return, but this could reach $10 million if the terminal was not to proceed.
“A focus on outgoing freight, including our niche high quality agricultural products, will help sell this proposal. An expanded terminal would be critical for both freight and eventually passengers.”
Mr Archer said an international freight strategy was being implemented and they were waiting to receive notification about a funding application which had been submitted to the Federal Government.
“The City submitted a funding application to progress this objective with the Federal Government and is awaiting notification.”