THE Argus has asked Kempsey Shire Council's Economic Sustainability manager, Susannah Smith, a range of questions on the prospect of a Kempsey-Sydney passenger flight service.
Her responses are below.
Please note, The Argus has inserted a few brief notes [italicised, like this] to elaborate on various points for readers' benefit.
MACLEAY ARGUS: How confident is the council the submission will be successful - do you believe other airports with existing routes have more of an advantage?
SUSANNAH SMITH: The criteria provided by Rex Airlines asks interested regional cities to demonstrate their ability to supply a minimum of 30,000 passenger numbers per year.
There is no denying this is a big number and, as Kempsey does not currently operate RPT [regular public transport] services, it will be a challenge to show how Kempsey could supply this.
At the time Impulse Airlines/Qantas ceased operations at Kempsey Airport on July 29, 2001, our annual passenger numbers were 8,544.
There are, however, many factors and competitive forces at play in the commercial aviation sector, so we will put a case forward for Kempsey as part of the EOI [expression of interest] process.
MA: Does the council believe a new Kempsey-Sydney service would meet the 30,000 passenger requirement Rex is seeking?
SS: It has been 13 years since we have tested local demand for RPT services, however more people are flying than ever before and a growth market provides opportunities.
We have also invested significantly in boosting our tourism profile over the past 12 months, and our tourism brands are increasing in awareness and demand - particularly for our icons of Smoky Cape Lighthouse and Trial Bay Gaol.
Population is one yardstick, however consumers are also looking for a competitive ticket price, safe and reliable travel experience, convenient routes and value for money.
This is now a very, very competitive industry but it also comes with high costs and standards. When profit margins are tight, the company will be seeking a low-risk destination that can provide the volumes required to make the service financially viable.
MA: What would be the likely cost of bringing the airport up to a standard capable of hosting the Rex planes and its services?
SS: The deadline given for this EOI has been extremely tight – just one week and with a long weekend thrown in the middle of it – however our initial estimates suggest at least $500,000 would need to be spent to meet basic safety, security and infrastructure requirements. [The council received EOI calls late last week. The deadline for submissions closes today, Friday, January 31]
MA: Would this EOI have any impact on the regional airport plan with the Greater Taree and Port-Macquarie-Hastings councils?
SS: Kempsey Shire Council is a signatory to the Regional Centre for Aviation Excellence MOU [memorandum of understanding], along with Port and Taree. This MOU gives broad agreement and support for a regional approach to aviation across our three centres.
However, it does not prevent Kempsey Shire Council from testing and pursuing opportunities that come our way.
We owe it to our community to put together the best case we can for Kempsey, and then it is up to Rex to assess the relative merits and weaknesses of each application.
If you’re not in it, you won’t ever win it.