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25 July 2001

The lack of research into North Coast air services could jeopardise the future of all of them and result in airlines continuing to prune what they claim are less profitable routes and further inconveniencing passengers.

This warning has come from Professor Dick Braithwaite, Professor of Sustainable Tourism and the Director of Southern Cross University's Centre for Regional Tourism Research (CRTR).

Noting that air commuters in the Northern Rivers were on "the receiving end of change", Professor Braithwaite said, "Not only are we living in a time of airline takeovers, but a period when air routes and timetables are going through a major shake-up. Airports are major regional facilities and decisions about their future should be based on solid research into passenger numbers and consumer attitudes. At present we seem to have a lot of anecdotal information but not much concrete evidence."

He urged the main interested parties, including local government and the airlines themselves, to seek a more accurate profile of what is presently happening and likely future trends.

"For instance, are more people using Coolangatta Airport because of cheaper fares, a wider choice of flights or because they can travel on a wide-bodied jet in speed and comfort? Perhaps incoming passengers are hiring a car on the Gold Coast, and this results in other parts of the region losing tourism to the Gold Coast.

"The development of one central airport in our region, at the expense of others, could well be a sensible option. The time taken to travel between towns continues to diminish and this could support the idea that people might already be travelling to larger airports or be willing to.

"However, which airport, or combination of airports, makes economic and practical sense is open to research. There might also be widespread tourism benefits if one airport is developed to a superior standard."

Professor Braithwaite, previously a CSIRO senior principal research scientist and coordinator of tourism research for the CSIRO, said the role of the CRTR was to assist with key issues and problems in regional Australia, including airline services: "The Centre's role is to facilitate useful, problem-solving research in genuine partnership with local businesses and communities."