As has been pointed out earlier in this Report the entire economy of Norfolk Island is virtually dependent upon tourism, and this, in turn, is utterly dependent upon adequate air services the Island from both Australia and New Zealand - the sources nearly all Norfolk’s tourists.
The present air link between Australia and the Island is provided by two ageing DC4 aircraft introduced in 1949. This service is currently being subsidised by Qantas to a figure of the order of $750 000 per annum. The cost of spare parts for these obsolescent piston-engined aircraft is increasing rapidly and they also require special flight and maintenance crews. In addition , obtaining the spare parts is, itself, becoming more and more difficult. Almost every flight to Norfolk is fully booked and waiting lists are common. However, to overcome the problem leads one into a complex set of circumstances.
Main factors involved
Several factors lie in the path of introducing new aircraft to replace the DC 4; the chief amongst these factors are the following:
The standard of Norfolk Island air strips and related airport facilities would require expensive upgrading (of the order of four to five million dollars) if it were desired to introduce heavy jet aircraft capable of carrying greater loads of passengers and the cargo.
Ecological considerations in Norfolk Island itself relating to noise, smoke pollution and vibration effects from jets.
The present international air navigational rule requiring that a two-engined aircraft flying over an ocean must always be within ninety minutes of a landing field.
The need to retain the economic attractiveness to Australians of a Norfolk Island vacation. It would vanish were Australians compelled to pay a much higher fare by having to travel to the Island via New Zealand, instead of by a direct flight from Australia.
The desirability of retaining Sydney as the Australian terminal of the route.
The necessity of balancing the present planned permitted maximum of tourists to the Island per annum (viz. 20 000) with reasonably profitable payloads on that and other routes to enable the airline to operate without subsidy.
The probable need to integrate the Sydney to Norfolk Island service with internal Australian air routes, in order to achieve reasonable utilisation of aircraft.
The virtual impracticability of permitting two airlines to compete on the same run.
The desirability of retaining Norfolk Island as a terminus and not as a throughport on an international route.
The economic desirability of ensuring that any upgrading of the air strips and airport cover long-term foreseeable needs rather than short—term immediate satisfactions.
The future potential of the Island as not merely a tourist resort, but a possible base for mineral exploration and exploitation of surrounding sea- beds. Demands upon air services would then change dramatically.
The need for a minimum frequency of air services, spaced reasonably throughout the week, consistent with demands from passengers and movers of freight, to service an island with an intended present planned maximum permanent population of 2000 and an annual intake of 20,000 tourists.
The incidental factor of a safety emergency air field for international flights on Australia- pacific routes.
The need to consider the freight imbalance between the Island and the mainland. While imports into Norfolk Island are high, exports are relatively low. Utilisation factors of aircraft are lowered as a result of freight backloading deficiencies, and affect profitability adversely.
The need for an aircraft on the Sydney-Norfolk Island run to have capacity to at least divert to Noumea in the event of a Norfolk Island landing being aborted.
The strong possibility that in future, as a result of industrial and other problems associated with sea transportation, and the ever-increasing costs of sea freight relative to air freight, the usage of air transport to Norfolk Island for supply purposes is very likely to increase, especially in relation to frozen cargoes.
The Norfolk Island airport
Norfolk Island airport was constructed in 1942 on land acquired by the Commonwealth to support the allied troops operating in the South Pacific during World War II, and it was taken over in 1948 by the (then) Department of Civil Aviation (now the Department of Transport), which maintains ground staff, fire service and flight service at the airport.
It is situated near the south-west corner of the Island and its two intersecting runways straddle two intersecting ridges. A plan of the airport is in Appendix (viii). The primary runway. (11/29) has a length of 5600 ft (1707 m), is set in a 500 ft (152 m) wide strip and has a grass surface. Its deficiencies are that as an unpaved runway it has structural strength limitations, and a grass-surfaced runway it has braking and directional control problems when wet. It is equipped with a modern T-VASIS landing aid at the north-western end.
Because of the nature of this runway it is suitable only for low-pressure tyre, low speed aircraft (such as the DC 4 Skymaster aircraft which Qantas currently operates). It is the preferred runway for Qantas operations due to its length and orientation in relation to prevailing winds.
The secondary runway (04/22) has a length of 5100 ft (1554 m), is 100 ft (30 m) wide, and is set in a 300 ft (91 m) wide strip. It comprises a thin coralline gravel pavement with a light bituminous coating. It serves as a wet weather alternative for the DC 4, and is used only when the grass runway is unserviceable due to heavy rainfall or when strong cross-winds preclude the use of that grass strip. The coralline gravel pavement has progressively eroded over time and is now only a thin layer. This surface has recently been given a light bituminous coating to prevent further erosion. Its length, width, and weak pavement, together with its out-of-wind orientation, preclude regular public transport aircraft types which are heavier than the DC 4 from using it. It will soon require resurfacing at an estimated cost of $0.5 million and this work will be necessary whatever aircraft is finally chosen for the airline service.
An adequate sealed taxiway and apron, of high strength construction, was built in 1950 for the terminal, with aircraft parking facilities suitable for two DC 4 type aircraft.
The terminal building ,at the airport is of timber-framed weatherboard, and was built in 1953. A septic sewerage system exists. Road access to the terminal area is good but the terminal car park is cramped and it can fairly be said that the terminal building and its facilities are barely adequate for the arrival and departure traffic. The extent to which the terminal facilities will have to be upgraded will be determined by the type of aircraft finally chosen to replace the DC 4.
The Commonwealth Government now has under investigation the proposed construction of a sealed 6500 ft (1981 m) runway on the Site of runway 11/29. This, if completed, would enable commercial payloads to be carried on the Norfolk Island service by the three jet aircraft types now in service in Australia, i.e. DC 9-30, B 727-100 (provided they were equipped for over—water operations) and the B 707-338. Depending upon the particular model of these aircraft types it is proposed should operate the Sydney-Norfolk land Service, the order of cost of the required aerodrome improvements at Norfolk Island ranges from. $3.5 million to $4.5 million.
Alternative air service proposals
Such considerations necessarily embrace both airport and aircraft. Depending upon the nature of the upgrading to the airport (that is strips, terminal building and related facilities) various aircraft become practical physical possibilities for the run. Their financial viability, however, is another matter and both of these factors must dovetail.
As has been mentioned, to upgrade the airport to handle jet aircraft presently operating in the mainland such as the DC 9 and B 727 will cost from $3.5m to $4.5m. The former Administering Department (Capital Territory) proposed (after consultation with the Department of Transport) that this upgrading be done. The two aircraft mentioned are both suitable for the route and they have assured continued availability. It was felt that Norfolk Island operations would provide useful additional utilisation for these aircraft and profitable operations at mainland fares and freight rates would be assured to the airline operator. That view, however, was put forward in evidence on the basis that tariff s for the Sydney-Norfolk Island service, having been held approximately at the level of Australian domestic rates in the past, despite the losses being incurred by Qantas, would continue to be so held. This may not necessarily prove to be the case
Alternatives to the above proposals, which require less demanding improvements to the airport, involve consideration of three other aircraft, namely the Fokker Friendship Turbo-prop, F27-500, the DC Havilland Turbo-prop, DHC-7 and the Fokker Fellowship Jet F28 models.
The F27-500 was examined closely by the Department of Transport, but its speed proved incapable of enabling the aircraft to comply with the long-held operational standard applying to lengthy over-water flights, namely that twin-engined aircraft on such sectors should be within ninety minutes’ flying time of a suitable airport at all stages of the flight. While this rule appears to be an arbitrary standard, it is, nonetheless, common to other countries and the Department of Transport does not consider that the rule should be departed from in the case of the Australia-Norfolk Island run for a regular scheduled flight. It deserves mentioning that the present operation by Air New Zealand of the F27 between: Auckland and Norfolk Island does comply with the standard, because of the shorter distance of that sector.
The DHC-7, although in production in Canada, is not yet in airline service anywhere in the world and will not be available until 1977-78. It requires only 2550 ft (777 m) for take-off and thus would require but minimal work on the air strip at Norfolk. Having four turbo-prop engines and a capability of using he short air strip at Lord Howe Island (approximately half-way between Sydney and Norfolk) this plane would not be subject to en route operational limitations. As with the F27, only minimal work would be required at the Norfolk Island airport to accommodate his aircraft. However, even assuming its physical suitability was proved, it does appear that the DHC-7 would suffer significant payload penalties on the Sydney-Norfolk Island route, because of the need for maximum fuel uplifts, and this could jeopardise viable operations with this aircraft. It would also require specially qualified flight crews and maintenance teams within any airline not operating it extensively. The factors of possible integration in a mainland fleet, and hence percentage of utilisation, are vital elements in reducing the component of depreciation charges in the use of aircraft to acceptable proportions, in so far as the setting tariffs is concerned, for both passengers and freight.
Use of the F28 models would require significant airport upgrading. Runway 11/29, immediately after ten points of rain within a 24—hour period, becomes of doubtful serviceability in far as braking for this aircraft is concerned, and hence the existing length of runway cum payload considerations move adversely. With some airport upgrading, however, it was alleged by Fokker — International b.v. that this aircraft holds attractive features relating to frequencies of service and subsequent Percentage of utilisation of the airport’s facilities. It will be noted later that Qantas studies on the key point of economic payload capacities of the F28 were not favourable.
Requirements for runway strength and width and for terminal building facilities would be much lower for this aircraft than for the other pure jet types considered. Fokker regards a strip 6500 ft (1981 m) in length and 100 ft (30 in) wide as amply sufficient for this plane as it can operate from 4000 ft (1219 m) unpaved runways. Landing noise levels of the F28 would also be less severe than those of the larger pure jets. In March 1969 an F28 visited the Island on a demonstration flight and gave rise to no adverse press comment. There are already five F28 aircraft in operation in Australia with Ansett Transport Industries Limited. A further three are on order for the Australian Department of Transport.
The remaining alternative to the types of aircraft discussed above is to allow charter operators to cater for the traffic between Australia and Norfolk Island on an ‘as required’ basis, with no regular direct airline Service operating, as the two are incompatible. It would envisage maintaining the present regular service from New Zealand, however, with minimal work being required at the Norfolk Island aerodrome. Such an alternative must be rejected on grounds of safety, convenience, costs to passengers and freight movers, and the wholly erratic effects it would inevitably have on the Island’s economy. Some regular scheduled air service of high safety standards, and capable of operations at as low a cost as is practicable, is imperative for the successful economic future of Norfolk Island.
Summing up, it can be said that with minor work on the coralline runway of the order of $0.5 million existing DC 4 and F27 Services could continue, and the DHC-7 could be accommodated. Some terminal building upgrading, costing approximately $0.25m (to improve the building itself, the car park and the sewerage and water supply service), would also be necessary. For economic operations with DC 9 and B 727 aircraft, the 11/29 grass runway would have to be upgraded, along with terminal building facilities, to a degree involving between $3.5m and $4.5m; if operations were confined to the F28, the range of these figures would be considerably lower. Whatever services are provided they must be reasonably spaced and cater for both the Island’s projected demands and economic profitability for the airline involved.
The Qantas position
Qantas began scheduled air services to Norfolk Island on 14 October 1947 using Lancastrian aircraft. The Island’s population was then 870 people. In June 1949, the DC 4 Skymaster plane was introduced and still provides the Service (twenty—seven years later). 1960 marked the beginning of a period of rapid traffic growth on the route and this rose to the point where the se vice carried 21,913 passengers and 106,665 kilograms of freight during the year ending 31 March 1975, in servicing both Australia and New Zealand.
The service is, however, uneconomic due to the obsolescence of the aircraft used and the inability of the Norfolk air strip to take present and future types of aircraft capable of flying the Sydney-Norfolk route without infringing the existing air navigational provisions. Losses by Qantas on this run over the last five years have totalled $4.6m and the company considers that these losses are likely to increase year by year until the airfield is upgraded.
Following a review of Qantas/Norfolk island services in July 1974 the Department of Transport was asked to consider relieving Qantas of the responsibility for their operation.
Subsequent communications between the Department and Qantas have indicated:
A proposal by the Department to upgrade the airfield at Norfolk Island to B 707 capability within three years
a desire on the part of the Department for Qantas to continue DC 4 operations between Sydney and Norfolk Island pending these airport improvements
an application by Qantas for government subsidy over this interim period;
A willingness by the Department to support an application for government subsidy. Such subsidy to be paid from the Department funds of the administering department (then Capital Territory, now Administrative Services) and/or Department of Tourism and Recreation (now abolished). Accordingly, in February 1975 Qantas lodged a formal application for a subsidy of A$760 000 per annum with the Department of Transport. This subsidy, it is claimed by Qantas, is required to cover actual losses incurred by operating the Norfolk Island service, after deducting continuing overheads. The application for the subsidy was based on current fares and budgeted cost levels applicable in the 1975-76 financial year. The application is still in abeyance.
Over the last ten years, Qantas has made a number of technical evaluations of alternative aircraft types likely to be suitable as replacements for the DC 4 aircraft. The evaluations included examining the possibility of modern jet aircraft such as the DC9-30, B 737 and the BAC111-475 operating from the existing runway. To further these studies a B 737-200 aircraft was demonstrated to the Department of Transport officers at Norfolk Island on the existing facilities in 1972.
It became clear that a unique aircraft, dedicated only to the Norfolk service, would not acquire sufficient utilisation to become economically viable. A successful aircraft candidate would need, on current fare structures, to be capable of being integrated with existing mainland fleets and this point is a key factor.
Investigations of a low-pressure tyre, grass-certified DC 9 configuration were pursued with a view to operations from existing Norfolk runways by Qantas, but the grass performance penalties were found to be quite severe, and under wet conditions the short runway would have to be used, which also penalises the payload capability. Similarly, Qantas dropped interest in the F28 when they ascertained that the payload capacity on the Norfolk-Sydney sector was considerably below that which a DC 4 could offer in one flight and was, in fact, about forty-three passengers.
Consideration by Qantas of the possibility of using B 707 planes for the Norfolk run (assuming the air strip was upgraded to permit their use) revealed deficiencies flowing from the fact hat the B 707 is demonstrably less economic to operate on long hauls than the B 747, which latter plane is replacing the B 707 in the Qantas fleet. Thus, the B 707 plane does not really offer sound long—term integration possibilities for Qantas.
In summary, the evidence showed that Qantas desires to be relieved of its involvement in the Norfolk Island run as soon as practicable. Essentially, the operations of a long-haul international carrier do not lend themselves to economic absorption of what is a relatively short-haul and isolated type of service, requiring the use of an airport which is well below world standards, and likely to remain so. It should also be pointed out that the Commonwealth Government, in establishing Qantas, expected that organisation to operate as a profitable concern. It would appear, therefore that some alternative to a Qantas-conducted air service to Norfolk Island must be found.
The position of other airlines
East—West Airlines Limited
This company favours the ultimate use of F28-6000 (Fellowship) jet aircraft with the object of achieving near daily frequency of service, and pending the full use of this plane proposes that the service be provided by the F27-500 turbo-prop Friendship aircraft.
The company pointed out that the F27 is already operating on Australian intra- and interstate runs.
East-West anticipates annual passenger volumes of about 28,000 and 40,000 with the higher figure being achieved somewhere between 1976 and 1982, depending upon the time of the introduction of pure jets to the service.
The company has evaluated the following aircraft types, all of which will require to be fitted wiith extra fuel tankage capacity (such extra tanks are not on the aircraft as they are at present operated on Australian airlines):
The company rejected for various reasons (chiefly on the grounds of size) the B 727, B 707 and B 747, and it anticipated that the Department of Transport would grant a concession to permit a departure from the ninety—minute rule in order to enable it to operate the F27-500 on the Norfolk Island route, pending availability of the F28—6000.
It considers the F28—6000 to be much quieter than the DC 9, B 737, B 727 or the B 707, and indeed to be quieter than the F28-1000 which is now in use in Western Australia. The F28-6000 uses speed brakes instead of reverse thrust to reduce the runway length required after touchdown and this lessens noise. The company contends also that the F28—6000 will require much lower levels of runway strengthening and will, therefore, reduce the capital and operational costs.
It is permissible for the F28 to use 100 ft (30 in) wide runways, against the 150 ft (45 m) width required for the DC 9 and larger aircraft. East—West places considerable weight upon the frequency factor, contending that frequencies of two or fewer per week will alienate some of the existing market. Although favouring the F28—6000 as being, on its evaluation, the only jet aircraft that achieves their nominated optimum frequency, it admits that the DC 9 could operate more frequencies at lower load factor because that larger aircraft offers fractionally lower seat—mile costs during peak periods. Against using the larger aircraft, however, East-West points to heavier additional airport construction costs and higher noise levels.
As an illustration of the escalation of air fares flowing from increased capital costs of airports, it asserted that for every $lm extra of capital costs of an airports between $6 and $12 would need to be added to each passenger’s round trip fares on the Sydney-Norfolk route (assuming an interest and depreciation cost of 12% and a passenger volume range of 20 000 — 40 000 per annum). The actual capital differential in airport expenditures necessary to enable different aircraft to be used, is likely to be several millions.
East-West Airlines’ present activities and future plans are such that it feels the Australia-Norfolk run could be readily taken over by it and, if this were done, such run would contribute a clear 10% of its total gross revenue. It has lodged with the Department of Transport an application for a Sydney-Norfolk Island air route licence.
Ansett Airlines of Australia (Ansett Transport Industries Limited)
This company is interested in the Sydney-Norfolk Island service and believes that the only practical economic means of providing this service is by the use of a plane such as the DHC—7, should that aircraft meet or exceed its design goals. It believes this plane provides the solution to problems of servicing, with regular public transport, the Barrier Reef Island, Lord Howe Island and Norfolk Island, and further, that the plane would have minimal impact upon the environment and would make minimum demands upon airport improvements. It also believes the plane would be capable of one—way interchangeability with F27 aircraft which are, at present, in the Ansett fleet.
It should be mentioned, however, that other evidence has pointed to possible refueling difficulties at Lord Howe Island, due to the need to import all fuel in drums to that island.
Norfolk Island Airlines Limited
This company currently flies a Beechcraft King Air Super 200 from Brisbane to Lord Howe and Norfolk Island and return, four times per week, carrying a maximum of twelve passengers per flight. A further service from Norfolk Island to Noumea and return is being negotiated.
The company favours use of a F28—3000 model aircraft for the service between Sydney and Norfolk Island. It regards this plane as having more efficient engines and as being more silent particularly during take—off and landing. The model, however, will not go into production until January—February 1977. It sacrifices seating capacity in order to increase its fuel- carrying capacity and thus lengthen its range. Whereas the F28-6000 and 4000 models carry 75—85 passengers, the 3000 model carries 60-65 passengers. However, this company considers that it would be profitable to operate the run carrying forty-eight passengers and approximately 3000 kg of freight. It calculates that break- even point with this aircraft is twenty-eight passengers without freight. Normal frequencies of flight would be four per week, with two additional flights per week catering for peak traffic.
This company doubts the capacity of the F27-500 to fly the route economically and safely, even if it were fitted with long-range tanks. The company pointed out that the F27-500 cannot land at Lord Howe Island and also that it would violate the ninety-minute rule.
A major disadvantage, however, of this company’s plans is its intention to set up its service with only one aircraft, and that not integrated with any mainland operations. It proposes to conduct its administration and crew staffing from the Island, and also to carry out as much of the aircraft maintenance in the Island as is possible, but stated that the bulk of the important maintenance work would require to be carried out in the mainland.
The environmental considerations involved in upgrading the airport
In May 1975, the Department of the Capital Territory prepared an environmental impact statement after consultation with the Department of Transport. This statement entitled ‘Upgrading of Norfolk Island Airport to Jet Standard’ was furnished to the Commission as an exhibit.
The environmental effects flowing from any major proposed upgrading would seem to fall into several main categories as follows:
Effects of the actual construction work
The civil engineering work involved would necessitate acquiring, transporting and placing significant quantities of soil, crushed stone and bitumen and/or concrete. Most of the haul routes inside and outside the airport boundaries could be restored upon completion of these aspects of the work. An existing quarry could supply the crushed stone. The noise, dust and traffic hazards associated with these activities of construction would be only temporary and would cease with the cessation of construction. The quarry itself would have to be extended but this would occur in any case, with normal development of roads in the Island. Alternatively, a fresh quarry could be opened up in a relatively inconspicuous valley. Soil borrow pits can be filled with decomposable garbage and revegetated over time. The construction work does not, therefore, pose a major environmental problem.
Water run-off from larger areas of sealed air strips would be increased, but this could be met with improved Stormwater drainage to prevent erosion problems. Fears of petroleum contamination in such run-off could be removed by taking steps to ensure separation of the contaminants before the run-off is dispersed, Approximately fifty more pine trees would be required to be either lopped or removed to cater for the safe use of larger aircraft on the expanded air strips, and while this is to be regretted the advantages gained would warrant the loss.
It should also be borne in mind that there are literally hundreds of acres available in the Island on which thousands of pines could be planted to compensate for the loss of fifty trees at an extended airport.
Noise pollution from jet aircraft
The likely magnitude of this must be kept in perspective. One take-off and one landing per day; three times per week, with some increase to possibly five times per week, is the probable extent of the noise pollution. The duration of noise on each occasion of take-offor landing is about two to five minutes. The Department of Transport considers that use of the F27-500 would not substantially alter present noise levels, and that indications regarding the DHC-7 aircraft point to its noise levels being less than those at present experienced with the DC 4. Even with larger aircraft such as the DC 9 and the B 727, their admittedly higher noise levels are of relatively short duration, and the frequency of movements by these aircraft would be significantly less because of the larger numbers of passengers they carry. The Department feels that with the exception of two dwellings near the airport, subsonic jet aircraft noise would not be a major problem.
Effects upon fauna and flora of noise and fume pollution from jet aircraft
Again, one must view this subject with a sense of balance and perspective, and bearing in mind the frequencies and duration of such pollution, as well as its intensity. Experience has indicated that bird life adapts quickly to new noise conditions. It is a well-known fact that most birds are not repelled by the noises of busy airports, and indeed their numbers at some airports constitute distinct flying hazards. The Department of Transport considered that no bird species would be endangered by introducing subsonic jet aircraft to Norfolk Island. It is probable also that exhaust pollution would not be so concentrated as to endanger any fauna or flora, as the dispersal of fumes by winds over vast expanses of ocean would result in very minor quantities being deposited on the Island.
Vibration effects upon buildings
While it is not doubted that buildings near the flight paths of jet aircraft over Norfolk Island would suffer some vibration effects, the actual extent of such effects is a subject of genuine doubt. The building which is causing the most concern is the chapel of St Barnabas, a small structure of great charm and beauty and which has very considerable architectural, historical and ecclesiastical value. It is located near the north-western end of runway 11/29. No one would wish to see that building imperilled. That it will suffer a degree of vibration is undoubted, but that such vibration will cause it severe damage is questionable. and by its very nature the point is unlikely to be resolved short of subjecting the building to detailed examination over a period of jet aircraft induced vibration.
Much emotion was displayed by some Island interests over these environmental aspects of the proposed development of the airport and the advent of pure jets on the Australia-Norfolk Island service. On the evidence submitted, it is obvious that a large proportion of the emotional concern is exaggerated and is wrongly based. The pollution and scars associated with the construction work will be but temporary. The noise, fumes and vibration pollution from subsonic jet aircraft will likewise be well within tolerable limits of frequency, duration and intensity levels for human beings, fauna and flora. If the chapel of St Barnabas is found to be suffering damage, it can be moved and or rebuilt elsewhere in the Island. Residents, likewise, can be moved and compensated. The airport, however, on which the entire Island depends for its very existence, can neither be moved nor can it continue to be a practical basic link in the communication chain without being upgraded to take jet aircraft.
The suggestion made in evidence that virtually all air traffic from Australia pass through New Zealand to reach Norfolk, in order to avoid any major work being done on the airport at Norfolk, is unacceptable on economic grounds.
The Island, therefore, is virtually faced with no choice at all if it wishes to survive. The blunt fact of the situation that technology has finally caught up with Norfolk Island and there is no alternative to the Island reconciling itself to acceptance of the upgrading of both the airport and the type of aircraft which service the Australia-Norfolk Island route - that is if residents of the Island wish to maintain their present standards of living.
The costs involved and responsibility for them
Low priority, stemming from the policy of Commonwealth Governments of years past that the costs of providing the ground network of airport and airways facilities should be recoverable, has to date caused upgrading work on Norfolk Island’s airport to be put aside. Busier centres of activity have had higher priorities. Nonetheless, it is inevitable if Norfolk Island is to have any economic future that one day this work must be undertaken and it raises yet again the basic issues concerning who is to finance Island development.
The capital costs involved are very significant, and the amortisation charges of a Norfolk Island airport, upgraded to the point of being able to take jet aircraft of the capacities of the DC 9 and B 727 planes, must also be high to the individual users of the service because of the relatively low utilisation factor of the airport.
Because of the very nature of airport operations and their control, it is inconceivable that such should not devolve upon the Commonwealth Government. The complexities that could arise were a private group to attempt to raise the finance and undertake the work of upgrading the airport, together with the amortisation of costs into freight and passenger tariffs, are such that the proposal becomes impracticable.
If, therefore, the Commonwealth Government is to accept responsibility for financing and operating the upgraded airport, then it is only equitable that the Government should consider the questions of capital costs, the passenger and freight tariffs, the construction priorities and the operating subsidies in the context of the overall needs of the totality of its citizens and its commitments.
The situation provides yet another compelling reason why, if the Commonwealth is to be expected to pay the costs of the capital development in Norfolk Island and to bear the responsibility of building and operating its airport, then the inhabitants of Norfolk Island should contribute in the same manner as other citizens of Australia to such capital and operating costs. Also its airport should be operated on the same basis as comparable airports within Australia, i.e. by the Department of Transport, subject to such local authority being exercised as that Department deems acceptable.
Furthermore, on the aspect of possible subsidisation of Passenger fares and freight rates, the merits of any assistance of this nature can only be assessed when the actual costs involved are known and can be weighed against the alternatives of not subsidising. If, for example, the unsubsidised cost of a Sydney-Norfolk Island air fare rose to a level where it inhibited a minimum number of tourists from visiting the Island, the cost of alleviating the economic distress so caused may be greater than the cost of an effective subsidy of the air fare. It is quite impossible, in the absence of clear cost pictures, to be definite on the likely arithmetical conclusions. The situation would require assessment on the basis of known costs and calculations at the time.
One can say with certainty, however, that unit costs in operating the airline services will be lowered if capital I utilisation is lifted to the maximum. The chief means of achieving this is for the aircraft which are used on the Australia-Norfolk Island run to be integrated thoroughly into existing intra-and interstate services in the mainland. Without such complete integration, the costs, to government and users alike, will certainly steepen.
Attitude of the former administering department (Capital Territory)
This Department supported the airport being upgraded to a standard which would permit the use of jet aircraft of the same types as are used in the Australian domestic fleets.
Decisions to be taken and recommendations in relation thereto
In so far as the choice of aircraft is concerned, this is a highly technical subject and can safely be left to the aviation experts in the Department of Transport to decide. Clearly, any one of a number of aircraft could provide the service but it is not a function of this Commission to intrude upon the tasks of efficient and very skilled departmental experts by attempting to evaluate, as a lay person, the most effective aircraft for this particular route.
It is felt, however, that the Terms of Reference do permit in this Report recommendations on policy with respect to matters involved in air communication generally.
In making these recommendations it was felt that one should take the long-term view. A myopic approach, dominated only by resent and particular considerations, should be avoided. If, for example, in future it becomes more economic to transport bulk cargoes by air than by sea, then a fully upgraded airport could be necessary. Similarly, a need for heavy equipment and materials on urgent call by mining companies interested in the surrounding sea-bed could well require an airport significantly above the standard of a mere tourist airport. From the point of view of defence, a low standard airport could prove a serious handicap. Although the Island airport is apparently of little consequence at the moment, in a changing world that position could change rapidly.
It would be false and short-lived economy to spend money in upgrading the airport to what some may feel need be but a satisfactory minimum standard, only to find a few years later that such a risk has to be virtually undone and be wasted because of compelling needs which have then arisen. Also, deferred construction costs are undoubtedly destined to be even higher than present costs. The greater flexibility in catering for technological change given by a jet standard airport, and the incidental benefit of an emergency airport to international flights across the Pacific, also tend to influence one in the direction of favouring a standard upgrading which, long term, should prove more effective and actually cheaper.
At the same time it should be stressed that even if the airport is upgraded to full jet standards that does not necessarily imply that the heaviest, biggest and noisiest aircraft will be regularly servicing the Island. It may well be that in the short term no aircraft other than the F28 need be employed on the Australia-Norfolk Island run.
A significant point in the area of costs is that very appreciable savings to the Commonwealth can be achieved by employing the Army and Air Force engineers to build the air strips as an exercise. New Zealand chose this alternative in respect of several airports it constructed for its Pacific Island dependencies and achieved worth—while economies in consequence. Also it should be pointed out that Australian Army engineers built the airport at Lord Howe Island.
In accordance with the above approach the following recommendations are advanced:
That Qantas be relieved of responsibility for the Sydney-Norfolk Island route as soon as practicable,
That only one airline operator replace Qantas; that operator to be in a position to ensure continuity of service by having available suitable numbers of aircraft and be able to integrate the Norfolk Island route with other routes so that tariffs can be kept to the minimum and high standards of service be maintained, without subsidisation by the Commonwealth Government.
That the airport be upgraded by Commonwealth Army and Air Force engineers to enable it to cater for both the immediate and foreseeable future demands, and to yield maximum flexibility in the use of both passenger and freight-carrying aircraft, i.e. to enable heavier jet aircraft to be employed if and when necessary.
That, if it is necessary to move buildings or residents as a result of upgrading the air service, that those affected be compensated.
That all possible care be taken to safeguard the environment in executing airport improvements.
That the Commonwealth Government finance and control the Island airport and related activities.
That upgrading work on the airport be commenced as soon as practicable in view of the age and if obsolescence of the DC 4 aircraft.
That there remain scope for other relatively minor air services, which at present operate to and from the Island, to continue.