Story and photo Luis Feliu
A $6 million apron extension for the Ballina Byron Gateway Airport, officially opened yesterday by regional development minister Simon Crean, is set to double the airport’s capacity for passenger movements to around 700,000 per year.
The new upgrade, which includes new parking bays for jets and general aviation aircraft, was funded by a contribution of $3.5 million from the Regional Australia Development Fund to Ballina Shire Council, which owns and operates the airport.
Around 80 invited guests, including most Ballina councillors, attended the official opening and unveiling of a plaque by Mr Crean and Page MP Janelle Saffin marking the completion of the works and expanded facilities, which will help increase the number of flights to and from the airport.
Mr Crean said the new apron and taxiway system would boost the airport’s ability to handle multiple aircraft and passenger movements, with 14 aircraft now able to be parked there simultaneously.
Airport manager Neil Weatherson said the works were part of the ongoing upgrade of the airport including improvements to the terminal building and a future multimillion dollar asphalt overlay to the main runway.
Mr Weatherson said the airport had seen a steady increase in passenger numbers and airline services and the airport’s expansion helped fuel the region’s economic and tourism growth.
Mr Crean said it was good to be back at the Ballina airport and seeing it grow as the hub for the regional centres of Ballina, Byron and Lismore.
Ms Saffin said construction of the project supported 125 jobs.
‘As a “region of villages” and the second most popular destination for international visitors in NSW, the Ballina Byron Gateway Airport is a vital link in our economy,’ Ms Saffin said.
The airport has seven daily flights to Sydney, twice daily services to Newcastle and three direct flights to Melbourne each week.
Mayor David Wright thanked Mr Crean and Ms Saffin for making the project possible, saying the government had invested more than $14 million in the shire in the past few years alone.
Cr Wright joined the two MPs later to inspect progress on the $8.5 million Ballina biochar project and the $5.8 million Ballina Lighthouse and Lismore Surf Life Saving Club due to open later this year.
Both of those projects had also been made possible by multimillion dollar federal funding.
Ms Saffin said the new surf club building ‘stands in amazing contrast to the old shipping container that had been serving as the club’.
She said that project supported around 40 jobs in construction, with 15 ongoing positions once completed.
Ms Saffin said the biochar project was a vital step toward lowering carbon emissions in the region, with construction set to start in the middle of this year.
‘It’s the first of its kind in Australia and once operational there is the potential to install similar systems elsewhere,’ she said.
‘Our region is home to some of the leading researchers on biochar and it’s great to see such a practical application of biochar technologies here.’