Region reaches for the sky with airfreight study
THE region's prospects of increasing airfreight capabilities is getting off the ground with a recent pre-feasibility assessment.
The Bundaberg Regional Council commissioned the study, by Avistra Aviation Consulting, to identify whether there is likely to be a commercially viable business case for either domestic or international airfreight services at Bundaberg Regional Airport.
Consultants reviewed available data and surveyed local businesses and provided six recommendations for the council.
While international freight is not currently a viable option, the council is set to focus on expanding domestic airfreight capabilities.
Mayor Jack Dempsey said COVID-19 had severely impacted the aviation industry and the long-term consequences were still unclear.
"The survey revealed that many businesses were unaware that airfreight services already exist through Qantas and Toll," he said.
"Unfortunately, the reduction in Qantas flights means there is less capacity for airfreight.
"One of the report's recommendations was to raise awareness among industry about the current opportunities."
He said the airport offered cheaper development opportunities, more available air space and less congestion than Brisbane.
But international freight remains out of reach for now.
Airport portfolio spokesperson Cr Greg Barnes said one of the issues is the lack of demand for imports.
"Airlines are not going to start an export operation unless there are goods coming the other way," he said.
"The consultants identified opportunities to increase Australian tourism to Bundaberg while global travel is disrupted through coronavirus, and that will be our focus over the next few years because it also expands the capability for domestic airfreight."
Happy with the report findings, Bundaberg Regional Council's executive director of strategic projects and economic development Ben Artup said this study provided "realistic, tangible" steps to take throughout the next couple of years to potential grow airfreight in the region.
Mr Artup said the opportunity to see what we could be producing here and exporting to a larger market, growing the economy through exports, prompted the study.
The initial recommendation, the 'region should concentrate on growing aviation services using existing runway infrastructure', is broken down into three parts.
First, the report suggests 'preparing a comprehensive passenger development strategy and business case for the airport to support growth in passenger services both for the development of tourism and trade, and for the provision of additional airfreight capabilities at affordable rates'.
Mr Artup said if the passenger market could be increased, it would make the cost of exporting cargo cheaper.
The second part of the recommendation suggests undertaking a business case to expand the capacity of infrastructure already used with airfreight at the local airport.
Mr Artup said this would include discussions with companies currently offering freight services about the possibility of larger aircraft or infrastructure on the ground.
Part three of the first recommendation focuses on increasing education across the region on airfreight service availability.
While the region doesn't have massive cargo planes making stops at the airport, there are airfreight services available.
If successful in attracting a larger aircraft, the report suggests considering the addition of cool store capabilities at the airport to support high value perishables such as spanner crab, corals, ultra-fresh seafood and berries in the event of delays.
Mr Artup said local businesses dealing with crabs, coral and fresh seafood had expressed their desire for a daily service to get product out of the region and down to Sydney or Brisbane.
He said they currently used trucks and rapid transport.
As part of the recommendation, Mr Artup said they would consider installing a type of cold room at the airport for these companies to store their product until the plane was ready.
Mr Artup said this recommendation was do-able in the region with the potential of fostering greater export opportunities in the future and without a huge initial financial cost.
Taking the recommendations on board, Mr Artup said council would undertake an educational campaign with local growers and facilities, approach companies about the prospects of larger aircraft and focus on passenger development strategy.
Those aspects will be worked on throughout the next six to 12 months.
Mr Artup said airfreight was more expensive than trucking produce, which is why it needed to be done quickly and for "high-value" products.
He said high-value products were the likes of chocolate-coated macadamias or a potentially value-added avocado product.
Cr Dempsey said there was also growth prospects in specialised aviation such as aeromedical and emergency services.