Albanese airport decision under AAT microscope

In an Administrative Appeals Tribunal hearing commenced this week, the Archerfield Chamber of Commerce (ACC) Inc. is seeking an AAT finding to set aside a Ministerial Decision of former Transport Minister Anthony Albanese in May 2012, which approved the Archerfield Airport 2011-2031 master plan. The hearing commenced in Brisbane yesterday (Tuesday 18 November) and is expected to run until November 26.Witnesses for the Chamber will include a former Federal Minister of Aviation Mr Peter Morris and other aviation experts, some of whom are former Federal Government employees.
The Chamber is asserting that the Department of Transport and Infrastructure and CASA did not assess the approved Master Plan with the required detail and technical accuracy demanded. In short the approval was granted without having regard to current applicable legislation, the interests of the aviation industry, the general public and the use of erroneous technical assessments.Archerfield inappropriate devels highlighted & boundaries
The ACC says, “The Department in recent years has suffered from an absence of specialised professionals in the aviation field with important decisions and recommendations to the responsible Minister being taken by uninformed bureaucrats who do not understand the industry or apply the law correctly.
“Chief among these failings has been the extraordinary policy of the Department to absolutely refuse to apply the statutory requirements of the Airports Privatisation Act. They advise that all problems arising between the users of airports and the lease holders, where the leaseholders breach the Act, are commercial disputes and should be settled in the courts.
“Instead of the Government applying its laws the onus is transferred to the general community to do so. The so called “Light Hands Policy” in relation to airports, a policy designed as a cover for bureaucratic executive action, has no legal backing at all and has never been raised in the Parliament.
“The Department has been acting as an un-informed regulator and uniformed protector of the public interest. It has been acting only as a post office rather than doing its job to protect the airports and the users. The consequences are that general aviation industries are being destroyed and airports infrastructure including runways being downgraded or lost.
“There is no or inadequate compensation to aviation businesses losing their assets through a system of refusals to renew aviation related leases of Commonwealth owned airport land upon which tenants paid for the buildings and improvements. Aviation land through the airport’s master plan will be converted to commercial and industrial sites without any control or supervision by State planning authorities.
“The full resources of Governments of all political persuasions have been deployed to ensure the commercial profits of the airport lease holders are ensured, without regard as to the loss of vital national infrastructure or the interests of the community at large, and the viability of general aviation businesses that try to provide services in a competitive market environment.
“The Act provides that airport lease holders must not alienate land that is required for present and future aviation needs. The Chamber’s application is to preserve our precious aviation infrastructure, stop new commercial and industrial development on land that is currently being used for runways and aviation businesses and to send a clear message to all federal airport leasing companies that only aviation related developments on taxpayer land in Australia will be permitted.”
Similar disputation has marred airport/operator relationships at some but not all other secondary airports. Bankstown based operators complain of ongoing intrusion of non-aviation development that has wiped out the only north-south runway available to general aviation in the Sydney basin and also taxiways, aircraft parking space and land they say should be held available for the growth of further aviation businesses.
Head lease holder Moorabbin Airport Corporation (MAC) is also widely criticised by its tenants for degrading airport functionality through the length reduction of runway 04/22, and the loss of space available for helicopter emergency procedures training due to the encroachment of non-aviation commercial buildings, and “astronomical” lease rental increases.

But on the brighter side, happily, GA airports don’t really have to work that way. At Parafield, Adelaide’s secondary airport, operators and airport owners exist in relative harmony. Significantly the main difference between Parafield and its three east coast counterparts is that its head leaseholders also own Adelaide’s main airport and have a strong background in airport ownership and operation elsewhere. Pine Pienaar, Managing Director of the airports biggest customer, Flight Training Adelaide, is more than happy with the service:

“We have a great relationship with Parafield Airport Ltd, which is owned by the same guys who lease Adelaide Airport, and they are very positive about having their airport here; they’re not looking to develop non-aviation property at the expense of the flying side of the business. We may rub each other now and again, but that’s just part of doing business; they see us very much as part of their commercial solution here, and they’re also happy with all the other flying operators. We occasionally have dialogue with some of the surrounding areas because we’re nestled in between some housing and businesses, but the airport people are very supportive and helpful in helping to educate the local population in why we are here and how much employment we generate. There’s no doubt that they have a model to utilise some of the ‘dead ground’ for want of a better expression, for commercial real estate rental, but overall we have a very good working relationship.”

And in Western Australia, aviation tenants at Jandakot airport learned in 2006 to monitor their interests closely when the airport owners sought to move the relatively new airfield to a new site and subdivide Jandakot for commercial real estate. Now cited as Australia’s busiest general aviation airport, Jandakot was saved by a most uncharacteristic political intervention. Airport tenants had became concerned that the airport head-lessors were planning to shut down the airport and move it to a new location considerably further from Perth, obviously in preparation for converting the entire landholding to commercial real estate.

In a very straight-to-the-point letter, the (then) Minister Mark Vaile wrote to Ascot Capital Limited, the head lease owners, suggesting that they should forget their plan and get on with meeting their obligations under the Act:

Should you wish to proceed with developing the airport development and relocation proposal, Ascot Capital Limited should not assume any right to re-develop the current site. The Jandakot airport site would be subject to the Commonwealth Property Disposals Policy, which, except in very limited and specific circumstances, requires a sale on the open market for full market value with the proceeds to the Australian Government. The policy does not provide any opportunity for a land-swap or similar negotiated arrangements as may be contemplated in the proposal put forward by Ascot Capital………..

…..the airport site is Commonwealth land with JAH holding a 99 year lease to run an airport on the site. In the absence of a much more convincing case to the contrary, the Government remains committed to the Jandakot airport site and is of the view that the long-term airport lease on the existing site should remain.

No indication should at this time be given that the Australian Government is in any way inclined to support the proposal to relocate Jandakot Airport. I would like to restate the Australian Government’s position that JAH proceed with implementing the approved Master Plan for Jandakot airport and operating the airport in accordance with the Airports Act 1996 and the Airports (Transition) Act 1996.

In effect, Minister Vaile was warning he would enforce the provisions of the Airport Act, and if here, why not everywhere else? It is difficult to understand why this doesn’t occur at all similarly-situated airports. It has been perfectly within the authority and the duty of successive governments and the Minister to deliver similar messages to the head-lessors of Archerfield, Bankstown and Moorabbin.

Meanwhile, a well-organised Jandakot Airport Chamber of Commerce closely monitors issues around the airport Master Plan, and actively participates in all dialogue affecting its members’ futures. “It’s really just a matter of watching to see that everybody continues to play by the rules,” says Chamber of Commerce spokesman Michael Braybrook.

 

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About Paul Phelan

Paul Phelan flew for over 50 years in private, charter, corporate and regional aviation, worked in senior management roles with a major regional airline, and retains his license. In parallel he has been writing for Australian and international aviation journals for well over 20 years on all aspects of aviation including aircraft evaluation, flying, industry affairs, infrastructure, manufacture, regulatory affairs, safety, technologies and training. He has won three separate National Aviation Press Club awards for "best technical aviation story of the year."

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