Regional Queensland, particularly its rural and remote parts, increasingly relies on air transport to help maintain its economic viability. And the cheaper the flight, the more attractive the region becomes for investors. So there is great interest across regional Queensland in the ongoing deregulation of airline routes and what it will mean for economic activity.
So far, deregulation has been a slow, deliberate affair, with the Queensland Government copping criticism from councils and airline companies about the pace of reform. The Department of Transport and Main Roads has made much about its review of regulated air routes ensuring “value-for-money outcomes”. But Virgin has recently criticised the Government’s failure to move quickly on deregulating the Brisbane-Roma-Charleville route, despite the ongoing energy boom in the area.
The deregulation of three routes on 1 January 2015 _ Townsville to Mount Isa, Cairns to Weipa and Cairns to Horn Island _ is being closely watched by those councils that stand to gain from increased competition among air carriers.
Torres Shire Council has 26 state and federal government organisations operating within its boundaries, so a high government presence drives the market in the region. But, with the administrative centre of Thursday Island accessible only by boat, airports and harbours are the key transport and waste management focus for council.
The Horn Island airport is one of the primary sources of revenue for council and, with airline competition tipped to drop airfares by as much as 30%, the expectation is the facility will become even more important.
But the council is concerned by the lack of information from the State Government on the looming transition.
“We still don’t know what we need to do, or when we need to do it by,” said Torres Shire CEO Dalassa Yorkston.