Gunnedah Airport’s tarmac upgrade has been completed and with it comes potential for airline services back in town.

The upgrades included a new runway, taxiway and an apron along with new lighting to bring it up to the standards set by Australian Civil Aviation Regulation for certified facilities.

There have already been negotiations for flights between Gunnedah and Sydney with potential for Brisbane according to Gunnedah Shire Council deputy mayor Rob Hooke.

He was at the airport last Friday to give the media a first look at the upgrades.

Cr Hooke stated that the airport had been in decline for the past 10 to 15 years. Pilots had complained about the grass growing on the airstrip and its slow decline was making it “slightly unsafe”.

Funding came from the Federal government of $2.2 million, $1.8 million from the State government and with Gunnedah Shire Council’s contribution it totalled $8.35 million.

“It is a big project, it is a project that is fit for the future,” Cr Hooke said.

He acknowledged comments from community members who believed the money was not spent well but said that was ‘shortsighted’ as the airport needed to be repaired.

“If we did not upgrade this airport, it was going to go into disrepair. It was not going to be certified by [Australian Civil Aviation Regulation] and we would end up with just a landing field which was unregistered,” he said.

“That is unacceptable for a town of our size with industries we have.”

He mentioned council received positive feedback for the airport improvements from the community in a survey released earlier this year.

Wear and tear over the years including damage from flooding had caused the airport to become worse for wear.

“It was [getting] to the point of becoming dangerous. We could not have a commercial service running into here and for emergency services as well it was becoming a bit risky for them,” he said.

The runway was completely dug out, new gravel and subsoil put in that was built up to about 400mm above the height that it was previously.

Construction started in May this year however the colder months did not permit for tarring until September and was finished later that month.

Cr Hooke recognised the Gunnedah Shire Council team and project manager Mick de Groot along with the contractors and Mackellars Industries Group for supplying the gravel.

“The airport has been delivered to a magnificent standard, it will now see us well into the future,” Cr Hooke said.

Talks with airlines were in place before the airport was going to receive the update.

Cr Hooke revealed there was potential for airline services to start as soon as next year for Gunnedah depending on the availability of slots into Sydney and overcoming pilot shortages.

Major industries including mining could benefit from air travel due to many people needing to travel from Gunnedah to Sydney or Brisbane. And with Gunnedah having a significant fly-in and fly-out working population, Cr Hooke believed they could benefit from the services.

If commercial flights come back into Gunnedah, people will benefit from no longer driving to Tamworth to fly to Sydney.

“It creates employment here because it increases the taxi services, the hire car services and people actually then having to service this building,” Cr Hooke said.

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