From next month, local residents who use Armidale Regional Airport to travel to Sydney or Brisbane, will be charged for parking.
Paid parking will be introduced by Armidale Regional Council for the airport carpark from May 1, along with an education campaign and prominent airport signage to advise airport users and residents about the new fees.
The announcement was made yesterday, with the Armidale council saying it envisaged the fees as one aspect of its attempt to improve the availability of parking for airport users, and to provide a more equitable mix of income for the regional facility.
Armidale Mayor Simon Murray said he believed the number of people parking at the airport had steadily increased in recent years and said at times it was at full capacity, despite a major expansion project last year.
"Many are using it as free parking while carpooling and doing business elsewhere," Cr Murray said.
"They are locking up a large number of parks for most of the day and often making it difficult for airport users to find a park. Now, we've got to expand the car park again, and it's going to become a "user pays" experience because how do you talk to our ratepayers and tell them that they're paying for everyone else to use the airport?
Cr Murray said the new fees would be set at a level to keep parking affordable while improving availability for airport users and helping to share airport operation and maintenance costs. Armidale has the only NSW regional airport with regular passenger services that does not have paid parking.
"Council's decision last year to introduce paid parking is just one way we are looking to strengthen the airport's financial position, and enable necessary investment in coming years to maintain and potentially improve service levels and facilities," he said.
"In the past, local ratepayers have shouldered much of the cost of maintenance and upgrades at the airport and we think there is a fairer way to share the load.
"A high-quality airport is an invaluable asset for this region, but they come at a considerable cost. (The) airport has exceeded its income by about half a million dollars in recent years."