Aero club fears loss of airport

A view of the Central Coast Airport from the air. Photo: CC Aero ClubA view of the Central Coast Airport from the air. Photo: CC Aero Club

Central Coast Aero Club and its supporters say they’ve been pushed into a corner and now realise that well lose the airport if we don’t start pushing our own agenda.

Club CEO, Andrew Smith, said: We’ve been here for 47 years, operating in harmony with the community …. and I think Council is using underhanded tactics to close the airport.

Warnervale was one of only six airports chosen for an Australian demonstrator tour to launch the new Cirrus SR22T G6 Turbo Image: CC Aero Club

There is a distinct lack of transparency since this Council was elected in 2017. We have not been involved in any decisions and they won’t talk to us, he said. And they’ve snuck this latest motion through, he said, just another anti-airport motion put to Council which has been enabled by the Mayor and Labor councillors.

Councillor Louise Greenaway’s Motion to the July 8 meeting called for replanting of a previously cleared section, and that there be no mowing, slashing or trimming of vegetation around the landing strip. Smith says that as the vegetation grows, it will result in the loss of a third of the usable runway. I think its an underhanded tactic to close the airport by making it unusable and eventually it will have to close. Councillor Greenaway openly ran for Council election on a ticket of closing the airport, it was her primary tactic, and since then, there’s been the anti-airport Motions put to council which have also been enabled by the Mayor and the Labor Councillors. I don’t know why they’re against the airport, publicly they are saying nothing, Smith said. He said the Aero Clubs licence agreement with Council expires in August, 2021.

We were promised by the Mayor, via email, to have discussions by July/August last year, but repeated requests for that to happen have fallen on deaf ears, he said. The Mayor has made it quite clear she wants to protect the wetlands. Smith said if the airport closed, they’d probably make it light industrial, and with all its concrete and light pollution, that’s going straight into Porters Creek and downstream to that sensitive wetland. Its nonsensical that you’d close the airport on ecological grounds, he said. Mayor Jane Smith has not responded to inquiries by this journalist on the progress of discussions with Central Coast Aero Club or questions about the future direction of the airport site and surrounding lands.

The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), as well as other supporters, have swung into action with petitions through their websites and change. org AOPA Australia Executive Director, Benjamin Morgan, said a displaced runway threshold will make Warnervale Airport unusable within a short space of time. It is obvious that Central Coast Council has no intention of renewing our lease agreements beyond 2021.

The Mayor has repeatedly promised the aero club, in various emails, that we would have our agreements looked at in July, 2018, yet despite numerous attempts, everything is falling on deaf ears. The club was advised by council representatives that airport traffic was exceeding the cap limit of 88 movements per day, and that all future operations would require a full 24 hours advance notice of movement, which includes all local, private, club and flying school aircraft.

This is a huge problem for our airport community and is clearly designed to negatively impact on the airports usability, Morgan said. Aero Club CEO, Andrew Smith, said that in one hour, a training plane could do 10 movements, and then with all the other aircraft activity, it didnt take long to log 88 movements. Meanwhile, Chairman of the Your Central Coast Airport Association, John Codrington, said Warnervale airport was an incredibly valuable community asset that has been identified as a major economic driver for the Central Coast. Councils own $450,000 report into the economic opportunities the airport could generate, which has been buried and hidden by council, makes clear the positive employment, social and economic improvement the airport could deliver for families living in the region.

An example of the utter Council stupidity has been the Amphibian Aerospace Industries debacle at Warnervale airport, whereby ratepayers have been forced to stump up an alleged $50m to buy back the aircraft manufacturers leasehold at the airport. This one act of lunacy has cost the Central Coast region up to 7,000 skilled jobs and hundreds of millions in lost economic investment and benefit over the next 10 years. The Central Coast has one of the worst youth unemployment rates in Australia and suffers from major welfare issues as a result, so its astounding that our Mayor and councillors have sought to undermine the education, training and gainful employment of those living on the Central Coast, Codrington said.

Central Coast Aero Club conducts pilot training, commercial and scenic flights for tourism, charity days such as free flights for disadvantaged children and their families, school tours, try and fly days, and theory instruction. There are also many support industries such as avionics, aircraft frames and engines, and overhauling and repairing aircraft. The airport is also used by the Rural Fire Service and for medical flights and evacuations. Aero Club CEO, Andrew Smith, said it would be a huge loss to the Central Coast if the airport closed.

If it goes, we would be the only region in Australia of this size that did not have an airport, he said. We’d be a laughing stock. The airport was built in about 1972, on Council land, and control of the airport was licensed to the Central Coast Aero Club from the 1980s until March, 2015, when Council resumed control and management. The club owns 2.4ha of land, about one-tenth of the whole site, which contains their club facilities, aircraft and hangars, while the runway and taxiways are on Council owned land.

In 1994, the former Wyong Council proposed an 1,800m runway to be funded and built by a private developer, but this was halted by local community groups on the basis of noise impact concerns, and this action resulted in the Warnervale Airport Restrictions Act 1996 (WAR Act). Another proposal in 2002, for a 1,600m runway, was rejected by the NSW Planning Minister under the WAR Act. Even so, Wyong Council pushed on, and in 2015, started planning a regional airport and service industry for commercial aviation to be known as the Central Coast Aviation Hub.

The idea was to develop the site to cater for aviation industries including manufacturing, education and technology, tourism, aviation support industries, pilot flight training, government and institutional aviation operators, aircraft operators and owners, helicopter operators, charter operators, regional services and emergency services operations.

The Central Coast Aviation Hub Concept Plan was completed in 2017 and predicted there could be about 115 new jobs annually and the complete precinct would see between 700 to 950 jobs onsite, as well as boosting the regional economy by at least $290m and promoting regional investment. The newly amalgamated Central Coast Council was elected in September, 2017, and the plan, with 15 supporting consultant reports, went to its second meeting with a strong recommendation from council staff to put the concept plan and reports on public exhibition. There had been requests from the community to exhibit the plans for comment.

The report to councillors said there were, at that time, 17 signed letters of offer from various aviation businesses and another six looking to commit in the following three to six months. These businesses would have created 438 new jobs, the report said. Councillors had two options: exhibit the plan, or do nothing, and the latter was not the recommended option by staff as it would not meet the expectations and needs of the broader Central Coast community.

The councillors went against the staff recommendations and, instead, voted to immediately suspend all works, land acquisitions and expenditure on the airport, and reallocated $6m meant for airport development toward employment generating projects across the former Wyong Shire area. There has never been public exhibition or opportunity for community comment on the Central Coast Aviation Hub Concept Plan and its supporting consultant reports. Councillors Greg Best and Bruce McLachlan have repeatedly called on Council to exhibit the documents and every time the Council votes against them.

Cr McLachlan said at Councils June 11 meeting that the public deserves to have an input into their own only aviation asset … its not owned by the councillors, its actually owned by the people of the Central Coast. Were not taking our governance into perspective and doing as we should for our residents, he said. The residents should have their right to have their say on their own airport.

Sources: Central Coast Council website Central Coast Aviation Hub Concept Plan Interview, Jul 12 Central Coast Aero Club, CEO, Andrew Smith Media statement, Jul 12 Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, Executive Director, Benjamin Morgan Interview, Jul 1 David Crawford Cirrus Aircraft Aust & NZ. Journalist, Sue Murray