By Nathan Paull
The area worst hit by the Queensland floods will soon have its own airport, which could help save lives in any future disaster.
The $30 million project will be built at Gatton in the Lockyer Valley, west of Brisbane, where 19 people were killed during January’s flash floods.
VNE Aviation managing director Randal McFarlane, who is responsible for the airport’s construction, says the airport will act as a rescue base if the region is hit by another natural disaster.
“I think that it’s probably fair to say if it had been built by last year that possibly some lives might have been saved,” he said.
“The choppers might have had a local base rather than flying somewhere else to try to get fuel, meaning they could spend more time on task.”
When the flash flood hit the valley, dozens of survivors were stranded on their roofs as the single rescue helicopter in the area was unable to get to them all before night fell.
A commission of inquiry held earlier this year heard other rescue choppers were unable to fly into the Lockyer Valley because of the terrible weather.
Lockyer Valley Mayor Steve Jones launched the project on Tuesday, saying it was a welcome relief for residents still reeling from the January floods.
“Now we’ll have somewhere for the choppers and rescue crews to go back to,” he said.
“(During the floods) the choppers had to stop when it became dark.”
Mr Jones said, though the airport would not initially cater for commercial flights, there could be scope in the future, depending on the region’s growth.
He said the main uses for the airport would be for agriculture, charter flights for fly-in, fly-out workers and for use by the University of Queensland’s Gatton campus.
Mr McFarlane said his company was investing $10 million in the project, while another $20 million would be spent on private hangars.
He said the airport would create at least 30 jobs during construction and future employment opportunities for more than 100 people.