Federal Member for Hinkler Keith Pitt with Fraser Coast Regional Councillor David Lee in front of the newly upgraded runway at the Hervey Bay Airport.
Federal Member for Hinkler Keith Pitt with Fraser Coast Regional Councillor David Lee in front of the newly upgraded runway at the Hervey Bay Airport.

$20m airport upgrade: Early finish but flight fight goes on

A $20 million airport upgrade to bring safety standards up to a national level has been completed four months ahead of schedule.

The Hervey Bay Airport now has a refurbished runway and improved airfield lighting.

Federal member for Hinkler Keith Pitt said it was integral to keep the facility maintained after the last upgrade 15 years ago.

It is predicted the runway work will sustain the airport's needs for the next two decades.

Missing from the media call however was the sound of jet plane engines.

The airport was originally upgraded in 2005 to make way for jet services and attracted multiple direct flights from Sydney each day.

Before COVID-19 hit, Sydney flights were already down to once daily and Virgin has since pulled the service altogether.

When asked about attracting more jets to the area Mr Pitt said the answer was simple.

"What we need is bums on seats," he said.

"I want to see more, council wants to see more and the tourism sector want to see more."

The $20 million airport investment included $9 million provided by the Federal Government as part of the Hinkler deal.

Mr Pitt said delivering on the project was a key priority under the deal.

"This project has provided a big boost to local businesses with up to 150 full time and contract staff working at the airport each shift, including local contractors, with materials and equipment also sourced from local suppliers," Mr Pitt said.

"45,000 tonnes of asphalt has been laid during the project to overlay the runway pavement and rejuvenate the taxiway and aprons to both the terminal used by commercial flights and to the industrial aviation precinct."

Assistant Minister Regional Development and Territories Nola Marino said the work would ensure the airport continued to meet the required standards to deliver its vital role to connect the local community, deliver new economic activity for the region through opportunities for increased airport operations and businesses to use the airport.

Councillor David Lee said the contractor Fulton Hogan had an onsite batching plant that produced 300 tonnes of asphalt an hour, allowing the use of two paving machines and crews at once.

"The project began in July this year and was originally scheduled to finish in March 2021 but has instead been completed in early November by using two crews per shift," Cr Lee said.

"Some lighting upgrades were done during the day while the runway was renewed at night to minimise the impact on commercial passenger flights.

"We apologise for the noise produced during these necessary works, and thank everyone for their patience and understanding over the past four months."

While all the major works are now completed and all major machinery has left the site, the asphalt now needs to cure for a few weeks so grooving can take place in early December.

Cr Lee said the new runway provided useful context to advocate for Virgin to bring flights back to he region.

He said there was a lot of work going on behind the scenes but a key barrier would be the financial viability of the flights.

"There is economic considerations, it has to be financially stable for them to run flights," he said.

"Staff are well aware of the issue and working very hard."

He said he could not put a time frame on when those negotiations were expected to be resolved.