The Busselton airport has been labelled a $5 million ‘white elephant’ by the State Government following the announced closure of the air service.
Minister Assisting the Minister for Planning and Infrastructure Michelle Roberts said the Perth-Busselton-Margaret River air service would cease operation from April 27.
Mrs Roberts said the decision to discontinue the service was made after the State Government decided not to renew the service’s subsidy, which had been in place for more than three years.
“The previous Government has been propping up this air service with $525,000 of taxpayer’s money over the past three years," she said.
“For the service to continue it would take a further $200,000 a year - which is unacceptable.”
Mrs Roberts said local governments, the Tourism Commission and other stakeholders had also injected more than $160,000 into keeping the service in the air, but to no avail.
“It is regrettable, however, that the funds required to continue the service are simply not available,” she said.
In relation to the $5 million price tag for building the Busselton airport, Mrs Roberts said there was no doubt that the airport had required upgrading, but money spent was blatant overcapitalisation at the time.
“It is just another example of the Court Government’s extravagance in building a multi-million-dollar ‘white elephant’ without ensuring it was going to be a commercially viable project,” she said.
“It highlights that the previous Government was only considering short-term gain rather than long-term strategic planning.”
Mrs Roberts said that over the course of the air service’s operation, every possible angle had been investigated and trialled, including the use of different aircraft types, fare structures, schedules and operators.
“However, current estimates are that the service will simply not reach a level of patronage that will allow it to be self-supporting,” she said.
“Even after allowing a full two years of operation into Margaret River - a growth destination - the growing cost of airline operations and the need for reasonable air fares meant the service would still require a subsidy to continue.”
The service commenced in October 1997 with Skywest Airlines operating a service between Perth and Busselton. The route was taken over by Maroomba Airlines in May 1998, and extended to include Margaret River in March 1999. Skippers Aviation have operated the service since last August.
Financial contributions have also been made by the Shires of Busselton and Augusta-Margaret River, the Western Australian Tourism Commission and Westralia Airports Corporation.
Media contact: Mark Thompson 9213 6613