International flights could be flying direct to the Ballina/Byron Gateway Airport once proposed upgrades area completed, according to Ballina mayor David Wright.
Cr Wright told Echonetdaily that councilors would be considering the next stage of leasing the airport at its 22 January meeting.
At that meeting, the council is expected to appoint a consultant to drive and oversee the leasing of the airport, which currently receives about 500,000 passengers a year.
Cr Wright said improvements to facilities at the airport would increase that number to around 750,000 a year, making it the second largest regional airport in New South Wales behind Newcastle.
Cr Wright confirmed that Ballina would be applying for $6 million from a $50 million funding package announced by the state government last week to upgrade regional airports.
He said the funding would be used to triple the size of the departure terminal, build more shops, toilets and a sports bar.
‘We’re pushing ahead with leasing the airport and if we get this funding it will only make it a more attractive option for investors,’ Cr Wright said.
Already the council has received plenty of interest from investors both in Australia and overseas.
Cr Wright was confident the Ballina bid would be successful given the annual 10 per cent growth of airport passenger numbers.
NSW Minister for Regional Tourism John Barilaro last week announced that priority would be given to projects that benefitted regional tourism destinations, “demonstrated by overnight visitation, enhanced aviation outcomes, visitor expenditure and passenger movements”.
Cr Wright said Ballina ticked all the boxes.
‘I got an email from Kuala Lumpur yesterday inviting us to a conference where all the big investors will be present,’ he said.
‘We won’t be going because we’re not ready yet … we’ve got to put in place a professional process with the leasing to ensure ratepayers get the best value.
He said the consultants employed to drive forward the leasing of the airport would look at various scenarios such as whether extra land, owned by the council and surrounding the airport, could be added to make the facility even more attractive to investors.
‘It’s the biggest asset we have in Ballina and we want to make sure that ratepayers are looked after,’ he said.
‘We have to do work on the runway if we want to attract international flights from overseas coming to Ballina.’
Meanwhile, Lismore’s mayor Jenny Dowell said her council would also be applying for a share of the $50 million funding package but had not yet decided what to apply for.
‘I’ve spoken with the general manager about that and he is following it up,’ she said.