Calls to privatise airport

Council has been called on to privatise the Wagga airport after Regional Express (Rex) claimed the current management was driven by “greed or incompetence”.

On Sunday, Rex boss Neville Howell revealed the airline had offered to run the Forest Hill facility and blastedcouncil for using the airport as a “convenient cash cowto cover up for excesses and abuses in other parts of councilfinances”.

Former councillor Julian McLaren accusedcouncil managementof “creative accountancy” to exaggerate the airport’s losses to justify a proposed 35 per cent hike in taxes set to rake in an extra$760,000 a year.

Former Wagga councillor Clint Uden, who works in the aviation industry,has joined the chorus of critics claiming the airport is “not being run efficiently enough”.

“I have worked at 17 airports around Australia over the last three-and-a-half years and I’ve seen first-hand how they’re run,”Mr Uden said.

“I can tell you Wagga’s airport is not run well.

“They need to getpeople in there with proper aviation experience and knowledge.”

Mr Uden also raised safety concerns about the airport, claiming an air-traffic controller was long overdue and was a handbrake on expansion.

“Wagga won’t be able to get jet aircrafts in and out unless they man the empty aircraft control tower,” he said.

Former councillor Alan Brown has rejected privatisation calls, but urged council to resolve its feud with Rex or risk flights in and out of Wagga becoming prohibitively expensive.

“Public ownership is the best method of ensuring Wagga has a first rate airport,” Mr Brown said.

“It will never be a huge money-maker but it’s an important service requirement for the city.

“Also, the (federal) defence department owns the land, so I doubt a private company would take it on because they could never get a mortgage to expand.”

Mr Brown said it was critical council negotiated to keep “70-odd jobs and keep theaircraft paint facility operational”.

Council is adamant the airport has sustained losses worth hundreds of thousand every year for the past five years and the 35 per cent passenger head tax is necessary to claw back the deficit.

It’s audited figures reveal deficits of $209,000 in2015/16;$405,000 in 2014/15;$563,000 in 2013/14;$259,000 in 2012/13; and $186,000 in 2011/12.

However, Rex this week claimed council’s $1 million in depreciation costs were“unbelievable”.

Council general manager Alan Eldridge will meet Singapore-based Rex chairman Lim Kim Hai next week in a bid to salvage the commercial arrangement.

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