AS THE first commercial air service since 2004 prepares to land in Katherine in less than five weeks, Katherine Town Council admits it is yet to make a decision on whether it will cease operating the town’s airport.
Prior to a stunning backflip at its June 24, 2014 ordinary meeting, the council had voted to withdraw immediately from running the embattled facility, described by the Northern Territory government as having “vital importance” to both Katherine and adjacent communities.
Almost 15 months on, chief executive officer Robert Jennings told the Katherine Times that, despite considerable consultation with other stakeholders, including the Department of Defence and Department of Transport, the council’s plans for the facility were still up in the air.
“So, Department of Transport did do a business case … and there’s actually something going to [the September 22] council meeting as well,” he explained.
“At this stage, they gave us a business case but lacked some big pieces of information.
“The information included how much it would cost to do the works on the site and, so, without that number, it’s very hard to do a 10-year business plan with a big dollar figure missing.”
Katherine Airport is owned by the Department of Defence but the maintenance of the civilian apron and terminal is the responsibility of the council, which leases the facility.
Including depreciation, the airport ran at a loss of more than $80,000 for the 2013-14 financial year and mayor Fay Miller said at the time of last year’s backflip that the council would “step away from it if it became unfeasible to operate it”.
Mr Jennings said a recent increase to how much the council charged airport users for aviation fuel would help to offset the annual budget blight.
The council currently has $702,516 in internally restricted funds earmarked for repairs and maintenance at the airport, but Mr Jennings said the figure would only cover a “short-term” fix.
“So, I talked about the short-term option and a medium-term option, so the short-term option would be to do just enough to get things across the line,” he said.
“The medium-term option, we’re not so sure [that the internally restricted funds would cover costs].”
When asked what would happen to the operation of the airport and the commercial air service if elected members voted to hand back the keys, Mr Jennings admitted he had no idea.
“They understand that it is an important facility for Katherine’s growth,” he said.
“We’ve done some initial research into that; it’s going to be tricky.
“There’s no definitive answer yet, unfortunately.”