Airport and MRO

  • COVID-19 has had a disproportionate impact on the Far North Queensland region with a forecast loss of $2.2 billion of visitor spending in 2021, impacting more than 7,700 jobs in the visitor economy. Investing in the rebuilding of aviation will deliver a strong ROI resulting from increased tax revenue, given the pivotal role it plays as a driver of tourism in FNQ.
  • Targeted route development, in conjunction with new aircraft technology, provides the opportunity for direct flights from Cairns to Europe, which would be a game changer for Cairns’ tourism and international trade, while also rebuilding strategic markets such as Japan.
  • Upgrading the International Terminal in Cairns will provide airlines with the infrastructure they need into the 2030s, while giving visitors to the region a welcome that showcases the reef, rainforest and the Indigenous culture that make FNQ unique.
  • Facilitating the growth of aviation support services such as aircraft maintenance and maritime surveillance, will support the diversification of the Cairns economy by providing skilled, well-paying jobs.

1: Rebuilding international aviation in a COVID-normal operating environment

Far North Queensland’s $3.3 billion tourism industry has been built on the platform of international and domestic aviation connectivity, as is the case for the region’s high value airfreight export industries. With international borders closed, one third of the region’s visitor nights have been lost and tourism operators who rely on international visitors are barely surviving.

Domestic connectivity will resume as domestic borders reopen, but international connectivity will need to be rebuilt in a substantially more challenging operating environment. As such, all participants in the aviation ecosystem will have a role to play in the recovery.

The key challenges are as follow:

  • 18 months of heavily impacted operation have left airlines and airports cash constrained with weakened balance sheets
  • 18 months of international border closures have left Cairns International Airport needing to completely rebuild its international business in the new COVID-normal operating environment
  • Airlines will require financial support to re-establish international routes as passenger demand may be subdued due to the increased cost and complexity including border restrictions, lockdowns, passenger quotas and sanitisation requirements, all of which impact route viability

Cairns Airport has a strong, constructive relationship with airlines and understands the necessity to provide efficient modern international terminal infrastructure to assist airlines during the recovery. Cairns Airport has explored options to cost-effectively deliver the infrastructure the airlines and the region need to deliver growth over the coming decade.

The current international terminal is outdated in form and function. The community is proud to have an international terminal, but they are not proud of its condition. A modern, refreshed and efficient international terminal will provide a better passenger experience, will be compliant with government mandated security upgrades and will be a more attractive destination for international airlines.  Financial support will be required to deliver this, given that passenger numbers will initially be low while the industry rebuilds.

Route development has also been impacted with passengers preferring to fly from point to point. Thankfully, the delivery of modern long-range wide-body aircraft (A350 and B767) is creating opportunity for new point-to-point international routes, including the possibility of direct flights into central-western Europe.

2: Facilitating growth of aviation support services

Cairns Airport is home to multiple government service providers, including Cobham who provide aerial surveillance operations for Australia’s national security, border protection, law enforcement, and environment protection. Cairns Airport also hosts a significant General Aviation precinct, including Australia’s busiest Maintenance Repair and Overhaul (MRO) hangar servicing turboprop and regional jets.

All operators on Cairns Airport are operating at capacity and Cairns Airport does not have additional hangar space to support future growth. Construction of new hangar infrastructure will significantly de-risk future growth plans for aviation support services on airport. Growth of the broader airport economy is beneficial for the regional economy and for the health of Australia’s sovereign commercial aviation maintenance capability and national security.




1: Rebuilding aviation in a COVID-normal operating environment

Cairns International Airport facilitated 4,400 direct international flights and 660,000 direct international passenger movements in FY19. During that period, international visitors accounted for 6.9M room nights and $1.1B in regional expenditure in Far North Queensland, while airfreight exports ex Cairns Airport totalled 3,075 tonnes with a total value of $146M.

Direct international routes must be re-established for industry to recover and thrive again in Cairns, and these must be sustainable, even with the incremental commercial burden associated with operation in a COVID-normal environment.

To achieve this, Cairns Airport intends to redevelop and refurbish its international terminal so it is optimised in form and function for the COVID recovery. A modern international terminal will provide an improved customer experience for visitors and better operating efficiencies for airport and airline operators.

Similarly, Cairns Airport acknowledges that its approach to international route development will need to be rethought for the COVID-normal operating environment. Modern, fuel-efficient aircraft now make it possible to establish direct connections from Cairns to Europe, creating opportunities for routes such as Cairns-Frankfurt, which would be a game changer for Cairns tourism and international trade. There is no precedent for such direct connectivity from Cairns, so Cairns Airport expects that interested airlines would seek to minimise commercial risk through government support. Also important is the rebuilding of key tourism markets such as Japan back to its peak in the late 2000s. This would largely offset the recent loss of direct Chinese arrivals from Hong Kong and mainland China.

Cairns Airport has a solid track record of delivering a strong ROI on government aviation investment and this would be opportunity for another successful partnership.

2: Facilitating growth of Aviation Support Services

Cairns Airport is a significant base for operators who directly and indirectly provide government services.

Cobham plays an integral role in maintaining Australia’s national security through delivery of aerial surveillance operations. Infrastructure investment would significantly aid Cobham’s expansion plans.

QG Air’s fixed and rotary wing operations deliver emergency medical aviation services to the Far North Queensland community and operate in a public safety role supporting the Queensland Police Service.

The APAC region will be the single largest destination for commercial jet deliveries in the next 20 years, expecting 40% of global deliveries or 17,645 aircraft. COVID-19 briefly impacted the aviation maintenance repair and overhaul (MRO) industry, but it has experienced a V-shaped recovery and is currently operating at capacity. Australian and Pacific-based airlines are having to send work offshore because Australia doesn’t have the local capacity to maintain its own fleet. Cairns Airport modelling shows opportunity for airport-based MRO providers to capture an incremental 400,000 annual man hours of heavy aircraft maintenance work, if fit-for-purpose hangars were available.



International terminal infrastructure: Investment in redevelopment and refurbishment of the international terminal will provide airlines with sustainable, affordable and fit-for-purpose infrastructure. A modern international terminal will cater for forecast pax growth into the 2030s, with further stages to increase capacity iteratively in 10-year increments.

Hangar infrastructure: Building on the success of the Queensland Government’s investment in the expansion of the Jet Aviation (Hawker Pacific) facility, government co-investment in fit-for-purpose hangar infrastructure will de-risk future growth for major airport tenants who have opportunity to significantly increase their footprint, increasing their contributions to the regional economy and national security.

Aviation attraction funding: To manage the risks associated with hub airports, and simultaneously open Cairns to new European markets, Cairns Airport seeks to work with government to attract a major carrier to operate direct into central Europe. To achieve this, government will be called upon to help de-risk this proposed new service through the direct provision of aviation attraction funding to Cairns Airport.

  • That the Federal Government commits $80 million towards:
    • The redevelopment and refurbishment of the international terminal to ensure that Far North Queensland remains competitive and an attractive destination for airlines in the COVID-normal operating environment.
    • Construction of hangar infrastructure to support an integrated maritime surveillance and rescue centre with substantial in-house aviation MRO capability.
  • That the Federal Government commits $20 million ($5 m per year for four years) in aviation attraction funding directly to Cairns Airport to support attraction of an historic direct central-western European international connection and rebuilding Japan back to the peak visitor numbers.

PRIORITY: Infrastructure
8+8 map Cairns