Fears of a loss of tourism and business to Echuca has failed to deter Campaspe Shire Council from introducing landing fees and charges at the town's airport.
At its recent monthly meeting, councillors voted 6-3 in favour of introducing user fees at the Echuca Aerodrome to help fund the upkeep and maintenance of the facility.
In a report to councillors, it was stated council had full operational responsibility for the aerodrome but no income streams to support or offset the provision of it.
Under the proposal, a $10 landing fee would apply to aircraft using the aerodrome, which would also cover up to six 'touch and goes' within an hour.
An annual general access fee of $240 would apply for hangar owners housing their aircraft at the site; a commercial access fee of $360 for commercial operators such as a flying school, charters, ag and haulage; and a parking fee of $360 for 'outdoor tie down parking of aircraft'.
"While it is acknowledged that the income potentially generated by user fees as proposed will not cover average annual operational costs, the proposal is in keeping with the fiscally responsible fee for service principles applied to other facilities and amenities," the report to council stated.
It said a "modest income" of about $15,000 to $20,000 annually would be generated that would offset, in part, some operational costs associated with the aerodrome.
Council does not intend to charge fees to any aeromedical or emergency services aircraft, such as air ambulance, police and firefighting using the aerodrome.
The user fees proposal was met with strong opposition from a number of industry groups, claiming it would be a disincentive for pilots to fly there.
Kyneton Aero Club warned its members would not fly to Echuca should the fees be introduced.
Club president Peter McCarthy said Echuca was a popular destination for flights from Kyneton but warned this would be "greatly diminished" if fees were introduced.
"We have previously experienced the imposition of charges at Shepparton and then at Bendigo, with a resulting deletion of these destinations from our recreational flying itinerary," Mr McCarthy said.
RV Aircraft Association president Alan Carlisle said introducing landing fees at Echuca was "a blow to common sense".
Airtourer Association secretary John O'Halloran said his organisation hold regular fly-ins to Echuca involving 20 planes and 100 people in attendance.
The next major fly-in is set for October, however the group's members have expressed concern and suggested moving to another location which does not have landing fees.
Neighbouring airfields such as Yarrawonga, Tocumwal, Wangaratta and Benalla do not charge landing fees.
A petition submission from Echuca Aero Club containing 59 'local' signatories and a further 63 'interstate' signatories was presented to council citing the negative impacts of the fees.
These included a loss of fly-in groups and the money they spend on accommodation and dining venues and a deterrent to any sizeable business contemplating moving to Echuca as a central location to Sydney, Adelaide and Melbourne.
Letters from Echuca Moama Taxis fearing a drop in business and Echuca Moama Accommodation Association concerned about a deterrent to tourism were also sent to council.
However, Campaspe Shire councillor Rob Amos said the proposal was about fairness across the shire.
He said recreation reserves and town hall user groups all pay to use those facilities, contributing to the cost of running them.
Cr Amos said the fees for the aerodrome were "very reasonable".
"The general fee of $240, you're talking $5 a week which I don't think is unreasonable," he said.
"When the Echuca Aero Club holds functions and events they are able to apply to council for grants to assist with any costs associated with that."
Cr Tony Marwood said the council was hoping to apply for government funding for a significant upgrade to the aerodrome, estimated to be worth $4.5 million.
He said council needed to ensure a long term efficient and well maintained viable airport into the future for a growing community
Cr Dan Mackrell was against introducing fees, saying it was like a transport toll.
"I do believe the fees are reasonable but overall I don't think we should be putting a toll on people coming in that are spending money if the the state government is not paying its fair share," he said.
Cr Colleen Gates was sympathetic to concerns, but stated it was a small fee and to ask aerodrome users to make a contribution towards fees and charges in the shire was not unreasonable.
In the end, councillors Amos, Marwood, Gates, Chrissy Weller, Paul Jarman and Adrian Weston voted in favour of the fees while Mackrell, John Zobec and Leanne Pentreath voted against.
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