Scone Regional Airport business owners have their say on $23.5 million upgrade

Scone Airport Warbirds Aviation Centre concept design. Photo: Upper Hunter Shire Council
Scone Airport Warbirds Aviation Centre concept design. Photo: Upper Hunter Shire Council

EARLIER this week, a letter to the editor from former Upper Hunter Shire Council (UHSC) general manager Daryl Dutton was published on the Scone Advocate's website.

Mr Dutton was highly critical of the $23.5 million Scone Regional Airport (SRA) upgrade which includes $13.5 million in airside upgrades and a further $10 million in non-airside infrastructure including a Warbird Visitor Attraction centre.

The project is funded by two grants equaling almost $13 million from the NSW government and a $10.5 million loan taken by Upper Hunter Shire Council.

While thousands of words were said online on the matter, local businesses that operate from Scone Regional Airport have since weighed in on what is the biggest spend on a single infrastructure project ever conducted by UHSC.

Scone Aero Club president Matthew Clark is extremely supportive of the project which he said would be a boost to the Upper Hunter economy as the drought continues to affect the local community.

"The drought hasn't only affected the farmers, it's affected the whole community, it's affected local businesses to the point where it does make it difficult for a lot of employers," Mr Clark said.

"I've spoken to a lot in this town in particular - they're doing it tough and anything that would bring more tourists to Scone would only be a good thing."

Mr Clark's comments come at a time that a number of businesses in Scone have confirmed they're shutting down, including Millers on Kelly Street.

"We've got over 100 members at the Aero Club, we're the representation of the aviation users of this airport and our members are extremely supportive of this project."

He said one of the biggest benefits to the airport being repaired will be the emergency capabilities.

"If the airport was to shut because they decided not to do the work and fund the money, where would the 600 plus medical or emergency movements go?

"Where would the Westpac Rescue Helicopter land if there was bad weather for a pick-up needed when it can't land on the hospital or a road and where would the helicopter refuel if it got re-tasked to Scone?"

While Mr Clark's sentiments were echoed by employees at Pay's Air Service, which is the largest operation at the airport, some businesses at the airport hold concerns over the delivery of the project.

Owner of East Coast Aircraft Maintenance (ECAM) Bill Owen said he is supportive of the project but had a few concerns including the communication from Upper Hunter Shire Council which he described as a "work in progress".

"In late 2016 I took over the running of the hangar next door to the Aero Club and I was informed by the council that the master-plan had been done and there would be no changes to it," he said.

"So to go to the meeting and find out there would be considerable changes, I wasn't consulted in any way."

Mr Owen said his main concerns surrounded access to his building from the main road during construction and having a designated area to run his engines.

"I'd just like to have advanced warning on things," he said. "But the main terminal building and the airport attraction, I'm all for that, and the upgrade to the airport will be a good thing."

"I would have just asked for better communication, but the actual improvements I think are a good thing, I haven't got any issues with that aspect, just the day-to-day running of my business."

One of the other major operators at the airport, Ben Wyndham, owner of Airspeed Aviation, said while he is supportive of the project in principal, he holds several concerns, including council's claim that the airport will shut down if an upgrade is not completed by August 2020 due to new safety regulations introduced by CASA.

"I have strong reservations about the council's management of it and I have very strong doubts about their economic justification," Mr Wyndham said.

This view was also held by former UHSC general manager Daryl Dutton, who believes the airport would be protected by "grandfathering" provisions where "the operator of a certified aerodrome is not required to modify an existing aerodrome facility so that it complies with this MOS (CASA Manual of Standards-139) until the facility is replaced or upgraded".

However, current UHSC general manager Steve McDonald has maintained that this is not the case when CASA has directed an order to comply.

"Scone Regional Airport is currently a registered airport and will be required to become a certified airport under the new legislation which commences on August 21 2020," he said.

"CASA will not 'grandfather' known and/or existing safety hazards and non-compliance items where an order to rectify has been issued."

Despite issues raised, the overall consensus from operators at the airport is support for the project, just several concerns about its delivery.