On 16 December 2009 the Australian government released its White Paper, the last of 3 steps in developing an overarching and first ever national strategic plan for the aviation industry.

Australia is one of the largest continents on earth with vast distances between cities where more than 80 per cent of our population live. Aviation is central not only to our transport needs but to our very existence as a nation. The Australian government estimates that by 2028 “there will be more than a doubling of current aircraft fleets… and the Asia Pacific Region is predicted to be the largest and fastest growing aviation market in the world – outstripping the United States and Europe”1

To assist the Australian government in formulating a national aviation policy it has planned for the release of three papers. The first, an Issues Paper published in April 2008, was designed to open debate and consultation with stakeholders and interested parties in the aviation industry

The second step followed shortly after with the release, on 2 December 2008, of an Aviation Policy Green Paper which set out a range of initiatives that follow four key principles:

  • safety is the number one priority for the Australian aviation industry and the government;
  • the aviation industry is a key driver of broader economic prosperity and a strategic approach based on properly-functioning competitive markets is required to secure the industry’s future and promote the best interests of the travelling public and businesses that rely on the aviation sector;
  • a coordinated approach to airport infrastructure investment is required to allow the industry to reach its potential; and
  • a responsible approach is required to managing the impacts of aviation, including emissions and noise, and the environmental impacts of airport developments.2

One feature of the four principles included in the Green Paper is the government’s proposal to seek greater investment opportunities in international airlines for Australian investors through the incorporation of principal place of business criteria in bilateral agreements. This would be further strengthened by the retention of the 49 per cent restriction on foreign investment in Australia’s airlines under the Qantas Sale Act 1992 and Air Navigation Act 1920, although additional foreign investment restrictions will be removed.

It is also envisaged that there will be an increased need for public private partnerships for the expansion of infrastructure development in the aviation industry.

The release of the Aviation Policy White Paper highlights the government’s liberalisation of policy and confirms that the government will, through legislative and regulatory changes, provide greater planning and investment certainty for the industry, as well as address the wider community and environmental impacts associated with air transport and airport development. The paper is designed to bring together a comprehensive forward looking plan that incorporates initiatives to:

  • improve opportunities for Australian carriers to access international markets;
  • increase competition and choice for Australian and foreign travellers on international routes to and from Australia; and
  • improve trade and tourism opportunities for the Australian aviation industry.

While the release of the paper will no doubt be applauded by many in the industry, the hard work has yet to begin as a new framework is established and implemented to reflect the liberalised policy goals of the Australian government.