Sky-high charges rile Warnervale skydivers

INQUIRY: Wyong Shire Council has increased charges to Australia Skydive Group.Picture: Ryan OslandWYONG Shire Council is under fire for imposing a massive fee hike on a skydiving company at Warnervale Airport.

Australia Skydive Group (ASG) chief executive Adrian Kennedy said the council’s fee had increased from about $1795 last financial year, to potentially $535,000 in 2014-15.

Mr Kennedy said the new fee structure had resulted in an “inconceivable” 297-fold increase for the club.

The new fee included “exorbitant new parking, refuelling and annual fees” and the scrapping of the former fixed rate.

The council said the new fee structure reflected the changing use of the airport, and the greater “impact on runway infrastructure associated with commercial skydiving operations”.

“The user-pay model was selected by council as the most equitable fee structure, with costs borne by the users rather than Wyong Shire ratepayers, with the fee structure benchmarked against other regional airfields prior to adoption,” a spokesperson for the council said.

Mr Kennedy said the “grossly inflated charges” do not exist at any other regional airport in Australia.

He said the plane used by ASG at Warnervale, the Cessna 208 Caravan, predominantly lands on the grass beside the runway, not on the sealed runway.

“There is absolutely no credible evidence to suggest that a skydiving aircraft will cause more wear and tear to an airport than any other type of aircraft,” he said.

“Under council’s fee schedule if our plane is used for a purpose other than skydiving, we would pay $13.64 for a landing. However, if we use the same plane for skydiving operations the charge is $145.44 because that usage now falls within the Adventure Sports category. It throws into question the credibility of council’s claims.”

ASG and the council are involved in a separate matter before the Land and Environment Court.

Please explainAUSTRALIA Skydive Group said NSW Opposition leader John Robertson had written to Wyong mayor Doug Eaton asking him to investigate the reasons for, and process behind, the fee increase.

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the federal Minister for Small Business, Bruce Billson, told the Lakes Mail the government had referred the issue of landing fees for skydivers at Warnervale to the Australian Small Business Commissioner to examine.

‘‘While this is not a formal inquiry the commissioner can provide information and assistance to small businesses, including referral to the NSW Small Business Commissioner for dispute resolution services.’’

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