New security screening requirements at Australia’s regional airports could devastate towns that rely on regional air services, the ABC warns.
Last year, the Australian government announced that 64 further regional airports across Australia will now be required to provide security screening for passengers. While security screening is a standard requirement at major airports across Australia, the government previously only required that aircraft above 20 tonnes had to be screened. Under the new laws, aircraft carrying more than 40 passengers now require screening.
The new regulations particularly affect regional airports serviced by aircraft such as QantasLink’s Dash 8 Q300 – which weighs less than 20 tonnes but has 50 seats. Charleville Airport in Queensland, which is served by a daily Q300 flight to Brisbane, is one example cited by the ABC.
The federal government has committed $50.1 million in funding to supply the 64 affected regional airports with new security screening equipment. But the airports themselves will be left to pay for the ongoing costs of staffing the security checkpoints. At small airports like Charleville, this could cost up to half a million dollars per year.
Small regional airports do not have the scale to make such operations economically viable. Even if every QantasLink flight departing Charleville left 100% full, that would equate to an additional cost of over $27 per passenger.
Who will pay for security screening at regional airports?
So, who is going to pay for this? That’s the half-a-million-dollar question. Many regional airports across Australia are owned by local councils which are prepared to run the airport at a loss due to the economic and social benefits that air services provide. But some local councils may be unwilling to pass these additional costs onto ratepayers, leaving the airlines – and in turn, passengers – to pay the extra costs.
Profit margins on regional air routes are already extremely thin as they lack economies of scale. The burden of these new security measures could render some regional aviation services unviable.
Rex vs Dubbo Airport
In 2012, QantasLink decided to upgrade some of its flights to Dubbo from smaller Dash 8s to larger Q400 aircraft. Prior to this, none of the QantasLink or Regional Express (Rex) flights departing Dubbo needed to be screened. But the Bombardier Q400 was above the weight threshold at the time for mandatory security screening. Following this, Dubbo City Council (which operates Dubbo Airport) decided to implement security screening at the airport for all passengers on all airlines.
Dubbo’s council decided to pass on the full costs of security screening to the airlines. At the time, Rex complained that the cost imposition made their Dubbo services unviable and argued that they should not be required to screen their passengers as their own Saab 340 aircraft weigh less than 20 tonnes. (Indeed, they also have less than 40 passengers.)
Rex took Dubbo City Council to court and lost in 2014. But Rex still holds such a large grudge that it still, to this day, dedicates an entire section of its website to “Stop Screening Charges at Dubbo”.
It just goes to show that the implementation of security screening measures at regional airports, while good-intentioned, can have unintended consequences for both airlines and the regional communities they serve.
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