Carter Newell looks at the Queensland Government’s recently released ‘blueprint’ for how it intends to assist the growth of the airports sector in Queensland, with a focus on airports of strategic importance.

On 16 October 2013, the Queensland Government released its Economic Directions Statement – Queensland Airports 2013–2023 (Queensland Airports EDS), issued by the Department of State Development, Infrastructure and Planning.  

The Queensland Airports EDS emphasises the importance of the airport sector to the Queensland economy. It also makes the point that whilst the Queensland Government no longer owns any of the airports in the State and it does not regulate aeronautical activity on airports, the Government has a key role to play in protecting and fostering the growth of Queensland airports – notably through planning regulation and economic development initiatives.

The stated intent of the Queensland Airports EDS is to ‘facilitate informed planning and investment decisions’ and to ‘assist in strengthening collaboration between the private sector and government’, and it aims to provide ‘greater clarity about the Queensland Government’s priorities for airport development’.

Airports with Strategic Importance

The Queensland Airport Services (QAS) identifi es 40 metropolitan and regional airports (of the current 191 Queensland airports) as being of particular strategic economic importance due to the key role they play in linking Queensland industries to workforces, international supply chains, markets and customers, making them integral to the State’s economy.

In addition to the large metropolitan and regional airports of Brisbane, Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast, Gladstone, Rockhampton, Mackay, Toowoomba, Townsville, Mt Isa and Cairns, the list of airports of economic importance includes a number of smaller airports in the west, such as Chinchilla, Miles, Wandoan, Emerald, Blackall, Moranbah and Cloncurry, and some tourism-focussed airports, such as Hamilton Island and Hervey Bay.

The Queensland Airports EDS also notes that new airports are proposed in central and southern Queensland, (mostly to support growth in the resources sector, including Toowoomba and mine sites in the Galilee Basin), and that those airports are expected to play important economic roles in the future.

Airport Growth – Principles for Future Government Action

The Queensland Airports EDS identifi es some trends and challenges impacting the airports sector, which include:

  • the likely changing patterns of demand in the resources sector
  •  a predicted increase in Asian consumer demand for tourism and education, which involve high levels of air traffi c
  • for regional airports, a shift towards the ‘hubbing’ of air routes, driven in part by the development of modern aircraft which tend to be larger and more fuel-effi cient, and the size and weight of which impact on infrastructure and maintenance requirements
  •  the trend towards developing commercial business precincts on or near airports, and for the development of airports as part of ‘multimodal transport hubs’, meeting demand for globalised business supply chains
  • the development of airports of military signifi cance, associated with increased military demands to carry out national tasks such as border protection and disaster response.

The Queensland Airports EDS goes on to set out the specifi c contribution of the airports sector to industry development in Queensland in the key areas of resources, tourism, construction, agriculture, and the aviation and aerospace industries – including aircraft maintenance and defence.

The Queensland Airports EDS articulates a recognition by the State Government that it can assist the growth of airports by reducing red tape and costs for investors and creting an environment conducive to that growth in areas such as land use and infrastructure planning. To this end, it expresses a commitment to ensure that future decision-making will be guided by the following principles:

  •  Airports are protected from incompatible development to guarantee the long-term viability of their operations and prevent encroachment on airport land.
  • State government approval processes and regulatory frameworks do not impose undue costs or burdens on airport growth and operations.
  •  Airports are supported in progressing appropriate development plans.
  •  Key transport corridors linking airports to the broader transport network are protected.
  •  Greater collaboration among airports is supported to enhance the State’s competitiveness and better infl uence Australian Government policies.  

Strategic Airports and Economic Development – Priority Actions

The Queensland Airports EDS articulates a commitment by the Queensland Government to assisting strategic airports’ contribution to economic development through various means including the following:

Airports and Development

  • Providing advice, and where necessary, case management to airport owners, managers and operators around airport master planning, approval processes and expansion projects.
  • Developing consistent and evidence-based vegetation management policies and processes on land on, or nearby, airports to enable growth.
  • Developing tenure arrangements for state reserve leasehold land on, and nearby, airports that support economic development.
  • Working with local councils to address blockages to growth and ensuring effective co-existence with local communities and industries.
  • Encouraging airports to operate more effectively as a network by building on their strengths, particularly in areas where they undertake complementary activities, to deliver better coordinated and more effi cient use of airports.
  • Providing local governments, airport owners and operators with advice on relevant state government funding programs including royalties for the regions that may support airport development.

Airport Industry Development

  • Working with airport owners and operators to ensure airport precincts are ‘business ready’ by streamlining planning, assessment and approval processes, and by encouraging and assisting airports to develop strong connections to domestic and international markets.
  • Facilitating planning approval processes, consistent with the State Planning Policy, to accelerate the development of maintenance, aviation industry and passenger infrastructure.
  • Working with transport service providers and the private sector to ensure airports are serviced by effective supply chains and, where appropriate, are part of integrated multimodal transport hubs.
  • Collaborating with airports to develop and expand aviation-related industries.

Conclusion

The Queensland Airports EDS contains a blueprint for how the State government intends to assist the growth of airports in particular, to optimise the 40 strategic airports, so as to increase Queensland airports’ contribution to the State’s economic development.

In conjunction with the airport-related provisions of the Government’s over-arching State Planning Policy (which is presently being fi nalised), Carter Newell anticipate this Queensland Airports EDS will be seen as a welcome development by the airports sector and the industries it services. However, it remains to be seen how the various ‘motherhood’ and aspirational principles and intentions set out in the Queensland Airports EDS translate into actual decisions for airport operators and proponents.

The current development by the Wagner Group of the new Brisbane West Wellcamp Airport will be watched with particular interest in this regard.

There are some encouraging signs from recent announcements made by the Deputy Premier and Minister for State Development, Infrastructure and Planning that the State Government is willing to take some practical steps which are consistent with the commitments detailed in the QAS including:

  • provision of three parcels of land, at no cost, to the Sunshine Coast Regional Council required for its airport expansion project
  • amendment of the Sustainable Planning Regulation 2009 to exclude infrastructure on airports and ancillary works from any development assessment referral under the Vegetation Management Act 1999 (Qld).  

It will be interesting to see what further steps the State Government takes to implement the initiatives expressed in the Queensland Airports EDS, particularly as they relate to the strategic airports which have been identifi ed – and whether the ‘pro-airport’ approach is also embraced by the Federal Government and affected local authorities.