Oct 12, 2012

Speech to Regional Aviation Congress, Coolum: “Regional Aviation – from strength to strength”

Flying into this glorious part of Australia, it’s easy to see why you stage your annual gathering here in Coolum.

I understand this is now the 13th straight year.

The Sunshine Coast is a place for everyone – a stunning coastline and hinterland with a growing diversity of businesses, educational opportunities and lifestyles.

The Sunshine Coast is now the 10th largest ‘city’ in Australia.

All of it is served by the Sunshine Coast Airport which was – not so many years ago – a tin shed in a paddock.

These days it is the arrival and departure point for almost 800,000 travellers every year.

This airport is in many ways emblematic of the growth of Australian aviation, in particular regional aviation.

For a century, Australians have loved to fly.

Often it’s the only practical means of carrying us swiftly around this vast nation.

Over the past 12 months, Australian’s have collectively taken 55 million domestic flights – a figure that is growing each year.

And with travel now five times more affordable than it was 20 years ago, most Australians will, at some stage, take to the skies.

Thankfully, we live in a safe age.

But it was not always so.

Courage and bone-shuddering risk were the hallmarks of the early aviators.

One can only admire their sheer guts in placing their lives in the hands of the small, rickety craft that took to the skies, devoid of almost all the safety features we enjoy today.

Their courage paved the way for the modern industry that so many of us now depend on.

Congratulations therefore to Paul Tyrrell and the RAAA board who initiated and hosted last month’s Inaugural Induction Ceremony at the Australian Aviation Hall of Fame in Wagga Wagga.

The Class of 2012 contains some remarkable names:

  • Lawrence Hargrave
  • Bert Hinkler
  • Sir Charles Kingsford Smith, and
  • Lores Bonney, who in 1937 became the first person to fly from Australia to South Africa – it took her just over 210 hours.

I particularly love the story of Ms Bonney.

In August/September 1932, she flew solo around the coast of Australia in her Tiger Moth.

Despite a variety of mishaps including several forced landings and a collision with her escort plane, she completed the journey.

A few years later, she flew solo from Brisbane to London, five times further than the much more famous American, Amelia Earhart.

And then in 1937, came the solo trip to South Africa.

Sadly, Ms Bonney has never been a household name in this country.

She had nothing like the publicity machine that supported Amelia Earhart, or many of the better known male aviators.

She died in 1994, just shy of her 100th birthday.

I understand the next edition of the Australian Dictionary of Biography will include her – a welcome recognition.

Hall of Fame inductees also included two much more recent names, Don Kendell and Max Hazelton.

Both men are giants of regional aviation and it is wonderful that their contribution will be forever acknowledged in the Hall of Fame.

 

REGIONAL AVIATION – SKILLS

Let’s turn to some of issues of interest to you here today.

I am aware that some of you are concerned about the number of skilled workers needed in the future. 

Right now, aviation directly employs some 50,000 Australians.

These jobs are generally highly skilled.

Through the Vocational Education Training program, the Federal Government provided almost $30 million in loans to support students taking aviation studies last year.

This has supported some 2850 places in aviation courses.

In addition, under the Australian Apprenticeships Incentives program, rural and regional employers who take on an apprentice in an area on the National Skills Needs List may be eligible for a payment of $1000.

This includes aircraft maintenance engineering, avionics and mechanical engineering.

These payments make it that little bit easier for apprentices in regional aviation to get started.

Strong support from this Government is providing your industry with the skilled workers needed, not just for today but well into the future.

We want to work with industry to deliver even more to address these challenges.

 

RECENT MARKET DEVELOPMENTS

At this point, let me congratulate Rex, Alliance Airlines and Skywest on their recently announced profit increases.

Rex in particular has every reason to be proud.

It recorded the highest profit of any Australian airline in the last financial year.

These results indicate that your sector is robust and largely profitable, and that your future is bright.

 

ACCESS TO SYDNEY AIRPORT

Nothing illustrates this better than the many new services that have begun operating in the last few months.

Such as Rex’s six new weekly services between Mildura and both Sydney and Adelaide.

And Virgin who will shortly add additional flights between Brisbane and Emerald, Newcastle and Rockhampton.

The extra routes highlight how critical it is that regional airlines continue to have good access, not just to airports in regional Australia, but in major cities as well.

For the record, I again state this Government’s support for regional airlines to be able to use major airports, including during peak times.

This includes Sydney’s Kingsford-Smith, and there will be no change to that position under this Government.

 

BITRE REPORT

I am a great believer in getting the facts right and making policy decisions based on evidence.

I am therefore pleased to release a new report into domestic aviation from the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics.

The report shows that for the year ending July 2012 – the first month of the carbon price, there were 55 million passengers flying domestically.

And in that month, five million domestic passengers flew in our skies, a rise of some 3.7 percent compared to July last year.

The report also reveals the continuing growth in the ‘fly-in, fly-out’ task.

For the first time, BITRE has reported on the charter sector and shows how closely it is tied to Western Australia’s mining industry.

But growth is not just confined to the mining industry. 

The latest Tourism Forecasting Committee report shows growth of 1.7 percent in visitor nights in regional areas over the past two years.

The value of domestic tourism is likely to exceed$76billion this year.

With almost half of domestic tourism dollars spent in regional areas, regional airlines are perfectly placed to capture an even greater share of this market.

Figures from BITRE show that over the two years to the end of 2011, passengers on regional air routes grew by 9.2 percent, to a record 21.3 million.

CAPE TOWN CONVENTION

While growth in regional aviation is something to celebrate, you do still face challenges with ageing fleets.

Your problem here is two-fold.

Newer aircraft entering the market place reflect the international trend towards larger craft.

The choice is far more limited for aircraft in the range of about 30 seats.

I’m sure individually, and through the RAAA, you will be able to work with the manufacturers to reach an acceptable outcome.

But it’s not just the suitability of the newer craft.

There’s also the considerable cost of buying new ones.

I am therefore pleased to announce today, an important initiative.

The Government will take action to sign up to the Cape Town Convention. 

As a first step, we will table the treaty in Parliament later this month.

The Convention is important for Australian airlines because it establishes an international register of interests in aircraft equipment.

This in turn provides greater security to creditors allowing them to more easily recover assets in the event of a default. 

This isn’t something that occurs often in our country but the increased security means loans can be offered with lower risk and thus at a lower rate of interest.

Of most interest today are changes made to the Sector Understanding on Export Credits for Civil Aircraft – the ASU – in September last year, removing the three-tier classification lists for aircraft. 

This in turn opens the door to lower cost finance for some regional aircraft that were previously excluded.

We’re hopeful this decision will be supported by both sides of politics so that accession to the Convention can occur as soon as possible.

 

DAMAGE BY AIRCRAFT ACT

I also recently introduced amendments to the Damage by Aircraft Act to reduce compensation payments if a plaintiff is found to have contributed in some way to the damage suffered.

This means that smaller operators can fly with greater peace of mind.

 

MOYLAN BILL

And while I am discussing Bills before the House –  yesterday the Parliament voted for safer skies when it voted down a Private Member’s Bill put forward by Mrs Judi Moylan, the Member for Pearce in WA.

This Bill would have put at risk safety and environmental improvements at major airports across the country.

It would also have tied up your industry in needless red tape.

Under Labor, community consultation has been overhauled and we’ve strengthened measures to better manage the impact of aircraft noise including:

  • Independently chaired Community Aviation Consultation Groups;
  • The appointment of Australia’s first Aircraft Noise Ombusdman;
  • Passing legislation to ban the operations of old, noisy jet aircraft at a number of Australian major airports including Perth.

The industry lobbied hard against this Bill and it was defeated by one vote.

But when it comes to aviation, safety is our first priority.

 

SECURITY UPGRADES

It’s the same story with new security measures now in place in airports across the nation.

The Government has so far committed $40 million towards airport security upgrades.

I am pleased to announce today that Dubbo Airport is the latest to be approved for Federal support for security improvements.

The $320,000 in funding will help the airport to put in place the new security infrastructure that will be needed once bigger planes, carrying more passengers, start using the airport.

These new measures simply meant safer skies for all of us.

Meanwhile, we continue upgrading remote facilities and services with $145 million allocated for the period 2008 to 2014.

This is more than 15 times the previous Government’s effort of just $9.1 million over the preceding four years.

 

CONCLUSION

While there is continuing economic trauma facing many other advanced nations, our economy continues to grow.

We can see that situation mirrored in regional aviation.

Despite the challenges you face on a daily basis, there is something remarkable about your talent and determination in adapting to the times.

You look for opportunity and you go for it.

Just as Hargrave, Hinkler, Kingsford Smith and Bonney went for it in a different context, in a different time.

Aviation today retains some of the magic which inspired our pioneers.

For regional Australia, aviation will remain the arteries that connect Australians to each other and the world.

I offer my congratulations and thank you again for the invitation to speak today.