The Kingscote Airport must be upgraded before another airline would consider coming here, according to Kangaroo Island Futures Authority general manager Kristina Roberts said.
KIFA is close to submitting its upgrade plans to the Federal Infrastructure Minister Anthony Albanese for consideration, with a range of options from $6 million to $17 million to upgrade the runway and the terminal.
In a “build it and they will come” scenario, Ms Roberts said the feedback from airlines interested in operating on the island was that they would only consider it if the runway was upgraded to accommodate larger planes.
“The consequences of not upgrading the airport are horrendous. When we consider that the number of passengers travelling by air has halved in 15 years, we can’t continue down that path. This island cannot do without an air service,” Ms Roberts said.
In 1999 there were more than 90,000 passengers each year. Now it is closer to 40,000.
Ms Roberts said that since airlines such as Air South and Emu Airways had left, there had been no marketing by Regional Express focusing on promoting Kangaroo Island as an air destination.
“We need to future-proof the airport. There is no point in doing just a bit and having to come back in five years to do more.”
A range of upgrade options would be put to the Federal Government in April, including possible re-fuelling facilities and security screening.
A “parallel” tourism strategy would be supported by Tourism Australia and include marketing to wholesalers.
Tourism Kangaroo Island chairman Pierre Gregor said TKI supported the work that was being done to investigate the airport upgrade.
“Access is an ongoing challenge for KI and anything that makes access easier and more competitive has to be good for tourists, KI businesses and hopefully will also provide positive outcomes for residents as well.
“It will make Kangaroo Island more accessible to the domestic and international market in particular. It would be great to see a similar focus being given to enhancing sea access,” Mr Gregor said.
Member for Finniss Michael Pengilly said the upgrade was a “pie in the sky plan”.
“It’s just another KIFA thing – no business case, no detail. We need to get the foundations right first, such as roads and accommodation. I’m not being negative, just realistic. This island isn’t ready for it,” he said.
Mr Pengilly said a similar upgrade at Port Lincoln had failed to attract other airlines, bigger planes or increase the amount of produce taken by air.
Aurora Hotels Resorts Attractions executive chairman Ian Drummond said the plan was a “fantastic step forward”.
Aurora had been agitating for the upgrade for four years and has a $12 million plan ready to build 47 more rooms.
He cited the example of Uluru, where the new airport hugely increased visitation and Port Lincoln, where having two airlines – QantasLink and Rex - in competition had increased passenger numbers by 30 per cent in 2009. “That was not a flash in the pan; that increase has remained.”
“An extra 40,000 visitors a year would give many small businesses on the island the critical mass that could stop them teetering on the edge of failure.”