Airport a leap of faith

Developers are calling on the KI Council, along with community leaders and traders, to take a strong leadership role and a ‘leap of faith’ in order to bring much-needed investment to the island.

Last week, Premier Jay Weatherill released a list of 14 projects that would go ahead if the government can secure federal funding, and the Kingscote Airport upgrade is among them.  The project is estimated at $17 million, with funding of $13.5 million to come from federal coffers.  If this long-awaited overhaul of the airport to accept larger aircraft goes ahead, it will be music to the ears of several developers who have been poised to begin work to improve island infrastructure to cope with the influx of international tourists. 

The government is under pressure to create more jobs, and this project along with several others, are seen as the fillip to enable job creation to move forward.  A KI Futures Authority/KI Council published proposal stated that enabling up to 70-seater planes to land could boost visitor numbers from 40,000 annually to about 70,000. A project such as this could generate between 107 and 382 new jobs and lift annual spending on the island from $123 million to $225 million. 

Various groups have developments ready to go to work hand-in-glove with an airport upgrade.  Ian Drummond, owner of Aurora Ozone Hotel, said recently, “we have put on hold plans for a $10 million, 45-room addition to the Kingscote hotel complex until the airport gets the go ahead. The airport is the absolute key to realising the potential of Kangaroo Island," he said. "As soon as it’s approved, we would resurrect the plan, and put it back in for approval and it would be our intention to start building as soon as we could."

Mayor Jayne Bates said, “The airport is a game changer for us because at the moment we can only land a 36 seater plane.  Air access is really important - quick and easy air access especially for our international visitors.  Kangaroo Island can be a complicated place to get to and time consuming.  If we can get them (visitors) here quickly and easily I think we can build the visitation, especially from that international community.  This increased size of the airport would allow flights directly in from Melbourne, 100 seaters and it would open up a market that we are missing out on,” Ms Bates said.

Another developer working behind the scenes is Caj Amadio.  Mr Amadio is semi-retired, so has the time and the vision to work towards improving lifestyle in South Australia.  He has a particular interest in and love of KI, and he can see employment opportunities and a better standard of living, if further tourism was encouraged on the island. He is planning a 100-room hotel, also in Kingscote, and a resort accommodating up to 300 people at Emu Bay on the island's north coast is also on the drawing board.  “The government needs to show it has a genuine will to ramp up tourism on KI," Mr Amadio said. "For too long we've been saying what comes first, the chicken or the egg.  The airport first and then the accommodation or the accommodation and then the airport. We should do it all together and, with that, comes development of tourism opportunities.”

“There are four main places visitors want to go on KI – they are Kingscote for its services; Emu Bay for its proximity to the airport and natural beauty; Penneshaw, for  scenic coastal areas and American River, for fishing and sailing and other outdoor pursuits,” Mr Amadio said.  The Emu Bay suggestion  to handle up to 300 people has come about as architects will tell you that number of guests is needed to make a café/breakfast/restaurant viable for operators. It would be on  eight to nine acres and be no more than two storey.”

Mr Amadio is also involved in the Makris-backed new ferry service, proposed to run from Glenelg. He said, “the (new) ferry will get bigger numbers up much quicker than the (upgraded) airport. By the third year of service, the ferry will be bringing up to 100,000 visitors annually, and they will disembark right in Kingscote, where they will have the opportunity to shop and learn about KI.”  It is worth noting too, that the ferry project is a state enterprise, which will be largely privately funded, while the airport upgrade will involve federal funding.

Federal Assistant Minister for Infrastructure Jamie Briggs said he was supportive of an upgrade, but would need to see detailed plans or economic analysis. And Member for Finniss Michael Pengilly said it probably doesn’t make economic sense to upgrade KI  airport in isolation.  He is in favour of the investment, but he would probably be more in favour of getting the sea lanes much cheaper for everybody. “It’s a hard place to do business by air, (but) we have suggested investments in more accommodation.  Also,  the condition of many of the roads is still not good and there are still a number of accidents. I acknowledge that the council works very hard on the roads.”  

Mayor Jayne Bates said, “airline figures have gone from about 90,000 visitors a year to about 33,000.  It’s not a good scenario, and while SeaLink is picking up the growth and loss from the airport, it’s also telling us that the internationals who are time poor, don’t want to spend two days getting here.  It’s a market we’re losing not building.” 

The Chair of Tourism KI Pierre Gregor said that sea and air access challenges were major inhibiting factors. “Certainly an upgraded airport with the capacity to service flights from the eastern seaboard will go some way to contributing to an increase in visitation and greater economic prosperity,” he said.

Mr Amadio said, “Michael Pengilly is right, that on current figures the case doesn’t stack up, but there’s not a government from either side that has had a master plan to really get Kangaroo Island up punching to its weight or above its weight, as it should.  

“You just can’t have the airport in isolation, you can’t just have accommodation in isolation, you can’t have all of the tourist operations in isolation - you’ve got to have all of it and it needs a government to take that leap of faith.”

He went on to say that an international golf course is possible, with the acquisition of the land, conditional upon all approvals, ready to go.  “It can be operating in 12 to 15 months on Kangaroo Island, and it will bring a lot of focus to KI.  While the golf course will not be reliant upon the airport upgrade, if the airport does expand to get interstate travellers coming there, it will be just the fabulous cream on the cake,” he said.  “It is just as important that we support the Makris ferry that has been in planning, and we’re just waiting for the government to make an announcement on that.  “It’s been said for a long time that Kangaroo Island could bring to Adelaide and South Australia what the Barrier Reef has brought to Queensland.”  

Premier Jay Weatherill

Premier Jay Weatherill

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