Will Council sell Moruya airport next?

Over the last decade the Moruya Airport has seen a major injection of funding from the State and Federal governments that has resulted in a major upgrade of the terminal, the runway and now a further $300,000 to a taxiway upgrade. At its ordinary meeting on 26 May 2015, Council adopted a Master Plan that identified a strategic direction for the airport and potential redevelopment opportunities. This Master Plan formed the basis of two successful grant applications to the NSW and Australian governments.

In 2016 Council received funding commitments of $7.1 million from the NSW and Australian governments to commence a major redevelopment. Currently an industrial subdivision is underway on the edge of the airport that will include the proposed oyster hatchery. Council also has its sights set on a residential airpark precinct that has been part of the overall vision for Moruya Airport for many years saying: "Given the airport’s location, there is a view that land on which owners could build a hangar/house dwelling would be in demand and that the sale of a portion of the airport land could generate revenue to help fund other development." Council say "Given the probable need to offer a freehold tenure or a 99-year leasehold, the land occupied by the airpark should be that which otherwise makes the least contribution to the airport operations. The area in the north-west of the airport meets these requirements. Given its shape, this area is effective only for relatively small and/or irregularly shaped lots which are not attractive to commercial aviation businesses and therefore suitable for private hangar storage or a combination of hangar and home. The area identified on the Master Plan allows for around 19 lots of between 875m2 and 1,200m2 in area, and of dimensions suitable to accommodate a hangar for a typical single-engine private aircraft and a modest 2-3 bedroom home with garage". Council have provided sewer and water, built the necessary infrastructure of roads and access to George Bass Drive and ensure that the lots are serviced with underground power. Although the majority of future development is anticipated to be on the western side of the airport, development of the Aviation / Marine Precinct and the Aviation Tourism Precinct is expected to generate additional activity and visitation to the southern portion of the site. A new hanger and premium accommodation outlet have already made declared their presence. Council will soon be at a cross roads though once the funding dries up. They have a valuable asset that will now require considerable ongoing funding to maintain and operate. It wouldn't be the first time they have considered selling the airport with a previous General Manager quite keen to consider doing so after a show of interest from the private sector. In 2015 Council wrote: "A major redevelopment of the Moruya Jockey Club facilities adjacent to the airport on the western side of George Bass Drive is proposed, subject to availability of grant funding, to develop an equestrian events centre. The development is expected to include around 80 powered camping lots for use by event attendees. There are opportunities to promote synergies between the airport and the events which might take place at the equestrian centre, including packages for instance to include skydiving or float plane activities. If this development proceeds it will essentially create a wider activity precinct centred on George Bass Drive on the western side of the airport. The Jockey Club development has the potential to create additional demand for non-aviation services and commercial offers in the adjoining parts of the airport land." Since then the Council decided to divest itself of the Moruya Racecourse and sold it for $1.2 million to Racing NSW. Council's own Management Plan predicts little in the way of any substantial growth in passenger traffic stating: "Pending completion of Phase 2 of the Passenger Service Plan, the Moruya Airport Operational Plan includes predictive passenger numbers for the next 30 years based on upper- and lowerbound annual growth rates of 3.7% and 1.6% respectively. "Based on this assessment the Moruya Airport Operational Plan concludes that:  The Sydney-Moruya route is likely to remain below the current threshold for NSW regulated routes of 50,000 annual passengers for the next 30 years and therefore will continue to be operated by a single airline; and  The current SAAB 340 operating aircraft type probably has at least 10-20 years of economic operating life remaining." "Phase 1 of the Passenger Service Plan entailed a detailed assessment of the current and recent historical performance of Regional Express Airlines’ (Rex) Sydney-Moruya route3 . This assessment was conducted in order to provide Eurobodalla Shire Council with an objective, balanced and detailed understanding of the viability of ongoing services to Moruya. "The assessment found that the Sydney-Moruya/Merimbula services appear to be both viable and one of Rex’s strongest regional routes in New South Wales. However, this does not mean that the route is highly profitable for Rex; the analysis also found that the profit margin of this route is likely to be limited to approximately 5% of total route revenues." Of interest the Management plan says "The potential extension of Runway 18/36 to 1,800m should be protected the ensure the full range of code 3C aeroplanes can be accommodate at Moruya in future if passenger growth demands." In 2005 Mayor Fergus Thomson said that the Moruya the airport lends itself to aviation-related industries such as engineering, aircraft storage and aero-tourist accommodation. He told ABC "The location of that airport is one of the most exciting possibilities that any council could be given or have in its backyard, so we certainly want to capitalise on that," he said.

"We're looking at developing concept plans to protect, obviously the environment in the process of developing something, which is a low impact aviation business." Eurobodalla Council, in need of proving itself Fit for The Future is desperate to acquire more rateable land from which to gather revenue by way of ratebase, sewer and water fees with any ancilliary fees and charges as a bonus. It is anticipated that the next Council will be presented with the seed of a Special Rate Variation in order to meet the needs of the rapid demand for services in the region by "Covid Changers". With facilities such as the Bay Pavilion coming on in 2022 Council is already under notice it will need to find substantial funds to pay for the operational costs of that facility. The sale of the Batemans Bay Community Centre and Batemans Bay Visitor Information Centre building have already been earmarked to meet the operational cost of the new pool centre (projected to be $2 million per year including depreciation). The Council agreed to $19 million in all to meet the capital short fall of the $71 million building however once open Council will need to find an extra $2 million per year for the new Gateway to the Eurobodalla and that can only come from a further sale of assets, an increase in fees and charges or a Special Rate Variation. How much would you pay for an airport? The last time Council speculated on selling it is understood the figure of $7 million was mentioned.

Photo: ESC

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