THE Member for Mallee, Anne Webster, pictured with Mildura Airport CEO, Trevor Willcock, continues to lobby for extra government funding for regional airports, particularly Mildura. Photo: PAUL MENSCH

By JOHN DOOLEY

AS the airline industry takes a nose dive in Australia due to the travel restrictions put in place during the COVID-19 lockdowns, the Member for Mallee, Anne Webster, has been fighting for funding support for regional airports, particularly the Mildura Airport, given the vital transport link it provides for the Sunraysia community.

Dr Webster said that COVID-19 has had a huge impact on all industries and businesses across Mallee, with the aviation industry particularly hard hit.

“The Government continues to provide significant support to our aviation industry through this crisis and I am fighting hard to ensure we receive that support locally,” she said.

“There has been more than $1billion of support to regional airlines across Australia, including Qantas, Rex and Virgin. This funding has allowed both Qantas and Rex to resume flights in and out of Mildura.

“This support has reconnected our specialist healthcare with our local community. It has meant that patients in need of care can get to Melbourne, and that medical professionals can travel to our region.”

The Government has long provided significant support to regional airports, including $100million over four years to 2022-23 to provide assistance to the owners of regional airports to undertake essential works, promoting aviation safety and access for communities. The Regional Airports Program aims to ensure that key regional airport facilities meet the needs of communities and local industry, now and into the future.

“The significant drop in flights as a result of the pandemic has resulted in a drop in the airports revenue and viability,” Dr Webster said.

“I’ve been in constant discussion with the Mildura Airport, understanding the impact that the Coronavirus has had on them, and I’m speaking with the Deputy Prime Minister everyday, advocating for the Mildura Airport and the support it needs.”

Mildura Airport chair Peter O’Donnell said that the fall in revenue has already had a significant impact on operations.

“This is a difficult period for our entire aviation sector, including for the Mildura Airport. Our board and management team are determined we get the support we need.” Mr O’Donnell said.

“The Mildura Airport has made it clear to Dr Webster the need for support, and the difficulty we are having without it. The ownership structure of Mildura Airport means that we are ineligible for the JobKeeper subsidy and other government economic backing.

“We appreciate enormously Dr Webster’s commitment to Mildura and advocacy on this issue, but we are now desperate that funding for the Aviation Sector extends directly to Regional Airports.”

Mildura Airport CEO, Trevor Willcock, said that the pandemic has reduced their regular passenger transport flights and passenger numbers by 95 percent since mid-March.

“This has not only had a major impact on Mildura Airport, but also on other aviation related businesses such as the car rental companies and ground handling services based at the airport,” Mr Willcock said.

“To my knowledge, most of the businesses based here have had to reduce staff numbers and other operating costs to try and survive until restrictions are lifted and domestic travel starts to improve again.”

Mr Willcock added that the airport is a critical link for business and tourist travel and as such the effect of the pandemic restrictions on travel is felt throughout the wider Mildura region.

“To date, all of the Government support packages for the aviation industry have been aimed only at the airline part of aviation and there has been no support for airports,” he said.

“In particular, regional airports such as Mildura throughout the country are facing huge economic challenges and some may not be able to survive this crisis without government support. Dr Webster has done an excellent job of lobbying the powers that be to try and gain support for our and other regional airports and she is to be commended for her efforts.”

Dr Webster said she will continue to fight to ensure this vital link is supported and able to get through the pandemic, so it is in a strong position to help us recover quickly on the other side.