ONE of the region’s biggest aircraft operators is threatening to take his business elsewhere if Armidale Regional Council introduces landing fees at the airport.
Each operator would have five aircraft exempt, but after that would pay an annual charge of $460 per aircraft.
Fleet Helicopters owner Lachie Onslow said his business had injected $9 million into the local economy in four years, and he’d move his fleet to Mudgee over paying the proposed fees.
“It’s a disgrace, this council is an utter, total disgrace,” he said.
“The business is here because we didn’t have to pay landing fees. We don’t pay them at Mudgee where we have a facility – it’s a no-brainer, we will move to where it’s cheaper to operate.”
Mr Onslow does government work, tourism flights over the gorges and runs a flight school – with maintenance a helicopter might take off and land up to 30 times a day.
The extra revenue from landing fees was expected to generate $40,000 a year, an Armidale Regional Council spokeswoman said.
“Ratepayers currently subsidise Armidale Regional Airport operations by more than $500,000 a year. Council is seeking to operate the airport at a break-even or better outcome,” she said.
“Council has been very supportive of businesses operating from the airport for many years, offering low leases for land businesses; and since the airport opened, those businesses have not paid a landing fee.
“Council is introducing a fairer user-pays system to lessen the financial burden being placed on ratepayers, who are currently subsidising airport operations.”
The recommended option is for a three-year phase-in period, with the council to take applications from charities and specialist aircraft to be exempt from the fees.
Councillor Margaret O’Connor said the price hike would pose a massive disruption to Armidale’s pioneer airport businesses.
“Here we have a unique cluster of businesses that are growing,” she said in the June meeting.
“This document brings uncertainty into their operations for what I see as a very minimal return for council and a dreadful outcome for our ambitions to grow our economy.”
Edwards Aviation owner Brad Edwards said the fees would make his business less competitive.
“It makes me look very carefully at whether I should stay here,” he said.
Councillor Peter Bailey said the challenge was balancing business needs with the council’s financial responsibility.
“We’re financially strap-ped as a council,” he said. “You’re always going to find a situation where some people aren’t happy, but if we want to make continued investment in our airport we have to find the revenue to do that.”
Council will decide whether to implement the landing fees in July.