AIRFARE prices in regional areas could be brought back down to earth, following a federal government review of transport in the bush.
A senate standing committee has recently handed down its report into the operation and regulation of air services in regional areas.
After a lengthy review, the senators have now called for a Productivity Commission review into airfare costs, and have flagged subsiding and regulating routes to address spiralling costs.
"The committee received overwhelming evidence that the high price of airfares in rural, regional and remote areas has a direct and detrimental effect on the lived experience of residents of these areas," the senate report stated.
"A lack of access to affordable airfares reduces the opportunities for residents to, among other things, attend family events, medical appointments, sporting events or explore and develop business opportunities."
Airfare prices have long been a flash-point topic in Tamworth, Gunnedah's closest airport for travel to and from places such as Sydney and Brisbane.
While Tamworth regional mayor Col Murray welcomed a potential inquiry into prices, he said the issue had eased in recent years.
He said regional centres with only one carrier were often in a worse predicament.
"We saw that with prices when there was only one carrier into Tamworth," he said.
"There has always been lots of chatter around the costs of airfares and the challenges associated."
The mayor agreed airfare costs would be a factor in attracting business to the city but hinted it would be hard for those prices to be reduced for regional areas.
"It is always going to be a case of supply and demand," he said.
"The reality is: we just don't have enough bums on seats to get the economy of scale."
'Days of travel for a short appointment'
The committee also recommended the inquiry look into "whether additional routes should be subject to regulation".
The senate report also acknowledged how regional residents were often subject to the logistical vagaries when it came to scheduling.
"The scheduling of flights on regional routes presents further difficulties, with many residents required to undertake several days of travel in order to attend a short appointment in a more metropolitan centre," it found.
"The ramifications of this challenge are particularly apparent when flights are rescheduled or cancelled, with a lack of any ready alternative flights or aircraft, or aircraft engineers, available in regional centres."
While the committee wanted to address the apparent rough deal regional passengers were getting, it also acknowledged evidence presented by airlines, which suggested lower passenger volumes ultimately resulted in higher individual costs.
"Should fares be reduced to the point where fixed operational costs cannot be recovered, there is a possibility that the routes would become untenable from a commercial point of view, leading airlines to cease operations entirely," the report said.
"This would have devastating consequences for regional Australia."
On the back of the report, Regional Capitals Australia (RCA) called on the federal government to urgently begin pouring out the $100 million announced in this year's budget for airport upgrades.
"Regional airports are fundamental to our communities by providing airfreight facilities, commuter services, emergency services and connecting tourists to our regions," RCA chairwoman Samantha McIntosh said.
"Additionally, we know that if the government is going to meet its objective of having more people live in our cities, to ease the squeeze on Melbourne and Sydney, then effective airports with good levels of air services are now required."
Regional Services Minister Mark Coulton was contacted for comment.