Losing George Town Airport from community control would be a disaster, the airport’s association says.
The fear comes after the George Town Council passed an intent to sell motion for the airport at its November meeting.
Now, the George Town Airport Association believes there is a “real chance” the airport might become privatised, which could see fees rise and become unaffordable.
The need for an airport was raised in the 1960s after the town missed out on a major industry moving to the area because there was no airport close by.
So the community came together and agreed they didn’t want that to happen again. Together with businesses and stakeholders, the community banded together to get the airport up and running and the association first formed.
In the mid-90s, a federal $200,000 grant became available for councils to improve its community, which the George Town Council was successful in gaining.
At the same time, an airline company was offering to fly into the George Town commercially. However, it needed a sealed strip and some landing lights.
Founding association member Lindsay Millar said the council decided it would spend the funds on sealing the airstrip.
“But to get the grant, they had to own the title. So our association agreed that to progress the airport there was nothing wrong with handing the title over to the council,” he said.
“We would finish up with a sealed strip and night landing facilities which were way ahead of anything we’d ever dreamed we could do.”
However, association president Eugene Reid said the airport was given to the council under the condition that it was to remain an airport, and if the land use was to ever change, the land was to be given back to the farmer that the association bought the land from.
“Between the work that we’ve done on the airport and the hangars, you’re looking at $1.5 million in the last 20 years which would all go to waste if it stops being an airport,” he said.
Mr Reid said houses could not be built on the site because of flooding in the area, and that the land was not appropriate for farming.
While the George Town Council has announced it will look into selling the airport, Mr Millar believes the council is only trying to sell it to make a quick buck.
“The other problem is that no one in the council will tell me why they want to sell it. I’ve emailed every single councillor and they won’t answer,” Mr Millar said.
Founding association member Pat Bottle has “major concerns” about the council’s proposal.
“The land could be sold to someone who doesn’t want it as an airport. Initially, they would run it as an airport … and then start jacking up the prices until it’s too expensive to run it anymore,” he said.
In a submission to the council against the sale, Mr Millar said the airport is not a single-use asset, with more than 20 uses identified.
The site provides a base for local aircraft owners, and for Freedom Flight to operate from. It has space for about 17 aircraft hangars and provides emergency landing area.
“It provides access for freight and passenger charter services for industry, business and community [and] allows fast access to and from the mainland for industries requiring specialised personnel and equipment,” he said.
The airport could also be used for the Royal Flying Doctor Service if there was a major industrial accident or emergency, he said.
The site is used by Tasmania Fire Service during firefighting events along with other emergency services. Army aviation commando training exercises also take place at the airport.
Charter operators bringing golfers to the state, that want to land on a sealed runway, land at George Town.
It’s used by Rotary and RFDS to fundraise, Three Peaks Race officials, and cuts flying time to the mainland to about 40 minutes.
“George Town industries, businesses and the community cannot afford to lose control of this asset,” Mr Millar said.
Submissions about the proposal closed on Wednesday. The association said it contacted about 20 people asking them to make a submission about the benefits of the airport remaining in public control.
A number of those submissions asked the council to transfer the ownership back to the association.
George Town mayor Bridget Archer reiterated the council hasn’t voted to officially sell the airport yet.
“What they’ve decided is to commence the process. Because it’s considered public land that triggers a public consultation process,” she said.
“We called for submissions to see what the community has to say about the airport and whether or not they believe it should be sold or retained as an airport, or if they have information about the history.”
The council is interested in gathering as much information as possible to consider during the consultation period.
“Council actually resolved to treat the airport as public land just a few months ago. Prior to that, it was considered public land,” Cr Archer said.
“I think the importance of that is that it required a robust level if community consultation that didn’t exist prior. When it was considered council land it would have been a lot more straightforward process if the council had of chosen to proceed to sale.”
Cr Archer said the motion came before the council coincidentally just before the busy Christmas period.
“It’s always a bit of an issue and it does happen,” she said.
Cr Archer said she had seen a couple of submissions but was unsure of how many the council had received in total.
“There is not going to be a review or a report written until next year, whether that is in time for the January meeting is questionable giving the work involved in that,” she said.
Despite the submission date already being closed, the George Town Council is still encouraging submissions to be made.