In the battle for supremacy in the skies over the northern rivers region, Ballina appears to be easily winning the aerial dogfight with Lismore.
Both are in the process of leasing their airports, but Ballina is flying high, while Lismore appears in danger of stalling.
Ballina’s mayor David Wright told last week’s council meeting that he was ‘astounded’ to learn that 32 per cent of passengers using the Ballina Byron Gateway Airport were coming from Lismore.
Cr Wright said the figures were revealed during a visit by a delegation of Japanese business people from Mt Fugee Airport.
‘They’ve got a new airport over there and were here looking at what we do. They were shown the passenger numbers and were very interested,’ Cr Wright said.
‘I’m not sure if they came because of the leasing but they were very interested.’
Meanwhile, Lismore last week was lamenting the loss of early morning flights direct to Sydney with Rex Airlines.
Rex announced that two of Lismore’s three daily services would now ‘bunny-hop’ via Grafton, a decision that brought a scathing response from Lismore’s mayor Jenny Dowell.
She told Echonetdaily she was ‘very disappointed’ at Rex’s decision.
‘I knew there was some assessment of flights from Lismore but I’d been assured about six weeks ago that Rex was looking at the mid-morning and mid-afternoon flights to go via another point,’ Cr Dowell said at the time.
She said the decision to fly via Grafton would be very damaging for Rex and very disappointing for business people from Lismore.
As Lismore struggles to retain its services, Ballina airport’s passenger numbers continue to increase.
Cr Wright said the airport now had 40 jet flights a week, excluding Rex flights, and passenger numbers recently hit 400,000 a year.
‘We’re looking to reach half a million next year,’ he said.
Cr Wright said the inclusion of ‘Byron’ in the airport’s name in recent years had made a dramatic impact on improving the airport’s branding, and the appointment of an airport manager had improved its performance.
‘It’s looking good. There’s art everywhere, it’s freshly painted and there’s new parking going ahead,’ he said.
‘New scanning machines have been in about three weeks and work is underway on an aviation rescue fire fighting station at airport.
The $12.5 million fire station should be operational early next year, and will employ 16 staff.
Cr Wright said it was being funded by Air Services Australia.
Cr Wright said the Alstonville bypass was also a factor, as it had made the trip between Lismore and Ballina even quicker.
Meanwhile, he said the council wanted to lease the airport to pay for further upgrades in coming years, as well as to develop a road to North Creek Road, which would open up land behind Harvey Norman’s for further development.
‘We’re looking to get a licence from the Federal government to dredge North Creek and the sand will be used to fill that land,’ he said.
‘It’s zoned industrial and we’d be looking to put associated airport businesses in there. We’ve also been in contact with the Feds about aviation industries about putting fibre optics into those business to connect with the National Broadband Network.’
He said the expressions of interest period would be open for about a month.