Hobart Airport feeling the squeeze as tourism takes off
More than half of Tasmania’s visitors come through Hobart Airport. (ABC News: David Hudspeth)
As Tasmanian visitor numbers continue to steadily climb, more passengers are using Hobart Airport as their gateway to the island state, and even the airport admits things are “squeezy”.
- Hobart Airport struggling to keep up with surge in arrivals
- Master plan still 10 months away
- In contrast, Launceston Airport continues to win accolades
ABC News in Tasmania is investigating the advantages and disadvantages of the state’s tourism boom and whether the state is keeping pace with the growth.
The Hobart Airport is planning a major overhaul to keep up with growing passenger numbers, but the expansion will not happen quickly, and there are questions about why the state’s northern airport has been able to more successfully get ahead of the crush.
Australia’s southern-most airport has experienced 6 per cent year-on-year growth over the past four years, with 2.6 million people making their way through the terminal in the past year.
It is the first or last stop for 60 per cent of visitors to Tasmania.
In a bid to keep up with the increase, Hobart Airport has given the arrivals hall a makeover, almost completed a new $13 million freight terminal and recently put the finishing touches on a new $4.5 million departures lounge.
The lounge has opened up more space and offers more food and beverage options for passengers, in time for the peak summer season.
Masterplan will increase footprint
But the renovations have been somewhat of a quick fix, and the airport’s chief executive Sarah Renner said more needed to be done.
“Certainly it can get a little bit squeezy at times and we’re concentrating at the moment on our master planning,” Ms Renner said.
A masterplan that would expand the airport’s footprint by more than 10 per cent needs to go through a major development planning process, with the Federal Infrastructure Minister’s approval.
Ms Renner said the concept design process for an overhauled airport was underway and would take about 10 months.
“So effectively we’re planning for the future and that future is to see out the terminal out to as far as 2030,” Ms Renner said.
“We do need to expand it, give passengers a variety of options around food and beverage, retail and so forth.
“We are looking at undercover walkways as well, as a possibility out to the aircraft.”
Sarah Renner and Matt Cocker are responsible for driving improvements at Hobart Airport. (ABC News: Tony King)
In the shorter-term, the airport will change the way planes move around the apron, so passengers spend less time waiting on the tarmac.
Earlier this year, passengers had to be kept waiting on planes while bottlenecks were sorted.
The executive general manager of operations, Matt Cocker, said it would address space issues when flights were delayed because of issues interstate.
“Seven bays allows us to have seven aircraft parking at the same time,” Mr Cocker said.
“At the moment we have five bays and, at times, due to off-schedule arrivals, they might be standing off on an apron from time to time.
“So seven bays certainly does help us with that.”
‘Launceston’s been able to do it’
The tourism industry lobby is concerned about a historic absence of long-term clarity at Hobart Airport.
Luke Martin from the Tourism Industry Council of Tasmania said the airport has had a series of attempts at masterplans over 20 years.
“The experience for people when they’re down there, whether they’re locals or visitors, isn’t probably what we want it to be,” Mr Martin said.
Luke Martin says it is frustrating that Launceston has been able to achieve what Hobart hasn’t. (ABC News: Scott Ross)
“And that’s been a long-term issue from the airport.”
Mr Martin said the Launceston gateway, which has been named Major Airport of the Year three times by the Australian Airport Association, appeared to have been able to achieve what Hobart Airport had not.
“I find it frustrating that we’ve actually got two major airports in Tasmania,” he said.
“Launceston’s been able to do it, [it’s] incredibly good and one of the best regional airports in Australia, and Hobart hasn’t.”
But the northern airport’s general manager, Paul Hodgen, said the state’s northern terminals received about 1.2 million fewer passengers than Hobart each year.
“I’m not one to disparage our friends down south. As a state capital, they’re always going to enjoy significant growth,” Mr Hodgen said.
He said the northern airport had had to work harder to secure extra capacity and flights, investing in an extension, security screening upgrades and a terminal reconfiguration over the past two years.
“Airlines have loved it [and] … certainly our airline customers have appreciated them,” Mr Hodgen said.
“Their flights are departing much more punctually. Passengers are through security screening very quickly now and are having that time to rest and relax and enjoy the new customer experience.”
Paul Hodgen says Launceston Airport is working on a master plan which extends beyond 20 years. (ABC News: Manika Dadson)
Launceston Airport has launched its own masterplan process to settle on a vision that extends for 20 years, but Mr Hodgen acknowledged it was a challenging process for any airport.
“We don’t want to build too much too early and it not get used,” he said.
“We need to be a cost-efficient airport. We can’t do that. Likewise you don’t want to build it too late.”
No international flights in sight
With the help of $38 million in federal funds, Hobart Airport’s extended runway opened this year.
The aim was to enable international flights.
But without any customs, quarantine or immigration services, and no airline committed to connecting Hobart to overseas cities, international flights are still 18 months to two years away.
“So certainly in the next couple of years, we continue our conversations … approaching different international airlines while we look at expanding the facility to accommodate them,” Ms Renner said.
She said the airport was consulting with Border Force about federal requirements for international flights.
It will be at least two years before international flights arrive at Hobart Airport. (ABC News: Gregor Salmon)