EMERALD Airport is facing a $30 million upgrade to keep pace with an explosion in the number of FIFO charters as well as regular passengers.
The Central Highlands council will seek out government and private investment for the increasingly urgent infrastructure works, but plans to keep it as an independent operation.
Deputy Mayor Paul Bell said a new $15m airstrip was a quick-fix solution to make the airport jet-compliant and able to cope with the surge in sky traffic.
FIFO numbers have sprouted wings in the last 12 months, with more than 30,000 Bowen Basin workers among the 250,000 passengers estimated to pass through the airport this financial year.
"It's a huge increase from three years ago when we celebrated our 100,000th passenger, and we thought the investment we had in the airport was justified, only to find the 10-year forward planning we'd gone in to with the ($7m) terminal expansion had been exceeded in four years," Cr Bell said.
"Now it is one of the first things a new council will have to deal with.
"We could have direct flights from here to Mackay and Cairns, here to the Gold Coast and how much further depends on how much mining materialises." - Deputy Mayor Paul Bell
"If half of them go, there could be another 10,000 jobs created around here and 70% of those people who live outside the community.
"The problem now is the airport head tax is $15 and that's covering all of our borrowing presently, and our investments, but the state and federal governments and the mining industry need to understand there has to be a financial partnership for future development."
Cr Bell said the priority infrastructure upgrades included a minimum of one jet and three passenger plane landing bays, as well as a possible separate charter plane set-down area.
Helicopters and light planes would be relocated, with the terminal and car parking expanded.
A new airstrip would require land resumptions in the surrounding area.
Cr Bell described plans to develop a commercial precinct north of the airport as a "real money spinner", with developers showing interest.
Despite the FIFO traffic being a driving force behind upgrade talks, Cr Bell said the focus would stay on the community's needs.
"We have to respond to our community and make sure it is being catered for, and any opportunities that happen, we don't and haven't specifically developed the airport for FIFO.
"It's for the local community and more and more they travel by air."
"We have to respond to our community and make sure it is being catered for." Cr Paul Bell
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