Councillors has voted to undertake an expression of interest from private operators for the future management of Coffs Harbour Airport.
Councillors has voted to undertake an expression of interest from private operators for the future management of Coffs Harbour Airport. Trevor Veale

Vision for international airport a step closer to reality

THE potential for Coffs Harbour to have its own international airport is a step closer to reality after councillors voted to undertake an expression of interest from private operators for the future management of Coffs Harbour Airport.

The airport, currently operated by Coffs Harbour City Council, has gone from strength to strength in the past 10 years under the management of Dennis Martin.

But as Mr Martin is set to retire in March, the council this week agreed to further investigate a long-term lease of the airport to a third-party operator.

This lease would also cover the Enterprise Park, which includes 23ha of commercial land surrounding the airport, set to soon begin development.

The recommendation to progress the lease model to the next stage was passed 6-1, with councillor Sally Townley voting against, saying she believed the airport should remain under public ownership.

Mayor Denise Knight, however, said it was important to "move forward" for the benefit of locals, agriculture and tourism.

Speaking at the council meeting, Coffs Harbour Chamber of Commerce president Martin Wells cautioned councillors it would be the "most important decision" to come before them.

"It sets the foundations for a multitude of enhancements and real city future growth. It shouldn't be viewed under the guise of a short-term fix but a 50-100-year vision for this council that will become your legacy," he said.

"Consider these current ironies: Coffs has been awarded the World Festival and Events City four years running, we're entering the ninth year of World Rally Championship, we've hosted world touch and Oztag titles, yet we can't fly the world directly here.

"From 2013-18, exports internationally and domestically have increased ... yet our companies are required to transport by road to get them out of the country, crippling business opportunity."

Speaking against, Peter Wardman, who has experience on the airport council committee, said airport users could be overcharged under a third-party arrangement.

"The productivity commission is investigating Australia's airport monopolies ... The current situation allows them to overcharge airport users who have no choice but to accept what is offered," he said.



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