STOP PRESS! Bandicoot is told a state-owned, state-maintained helipad lies idle on the Hastings foreshore at Long Island. Big enough to accommodate Elvis, it is kilometres from houses. Could this be the spot for a helicopter fuel supply? (Click on illustration to enlarge.)
Now, back to the $100,000 helipad story after that exciting interruption!
Buried deep inside the shire’s proposed 2017-18 budget is Project 486. It is nestled below Project 485 – a proposal for “Caroline Chisholm Education Foundation Grant” ($40,000) and above Project 487 – “Grant for Legal Clinics” ($18,000).
Most adjacent projects are also clearly identified: a $30,000 traffic management study for Red Hill, a $20,000 international tennis grant, the $5000 Pelican Point Mr Eliza scoping and a $40,000 assessment for parking meters on shire foreshores.
Bandicoot’s interest was piqued by Project 486 – vaguely worded as a “grant for emergency management infrastructure”. Listed at a top-end $100,000, it seemed to fit the bill for something this sharp-eyed marsupial had spotted in the minutes of the Forward Planning Committee Meeting of 13 December last year.
Had Bandicoot’s often-dreary bedtime reading finally paid off?
The forward planning meeting considered mostly modest submissions from some 80 community groups for project funding, from the Mornington Bowls Club (sealing of car park) to an audit of bathing boxes – the shire manages 830 of them.
But back to the emergency infrastructure. Among the requests for rates justice for retirement villages, a sound shell for Hastings, a shire commitment to stop “wasteful use of money” and numerous sports-associated pleas, there was a submission from the Peninsula Aero Club.
Project: the club’s stated need for a 40×40-metre concrete helipad “to support airborne emergency services at Tyabb Airport”, plus refuelling facilities. Cost: $100,000. Question: in these straitened times, is this a “wasteful use of money”?
If indeed this is the $100,000 mentioned in Project 486, why not say so? Bandicoot was intrigued that this would be described so vaguely when “Tyabb airfield” would have readily identified its location.
Of course, the $100,000 could well be destined for different emergency management infrastructure altogether. But Bandicoot has reason to believe this is not the case. If he is wrong he will apologise immediately and you, gentle visitor, will have wasted your time reading this – but do not cease reading, since he may be right! And the story gets more interesting from here.
It should be pointed out at once that the Peninsula Aero Club operates out of what it describes on its website as “Tyabb Airport”. But it is not an “airport” at all. It is not “a complex of runways and buildings for the take-off, landing, and maintenance of civil aircraft, with facilities for passengers”. Show Bandicoot a waiting room at Tyabb.
The technical difference between an “airport” and an “airfield” or “aerodrome” is clear. “The term ‘airport’ may imply a certain stature (having satisfied certain certification criteria or regulatory requirements) that an aerodrome may not have achieved,” writes an expert, admittedly self-proclaimed but nonetheless confirming other Bandicoot research. Elvis refuels…
“That is to say, all airports are aerodromes, but not all aerodromes are airports,” the expert concludes.
Thus Tyabb is better described as an “airfield” or, to use a term from Bandicoot’s Biggles-reading days, an “aerodrome” where Algie might land a “kite”. Both are defined as “an area of land set aside for the take-off, landing, and maintenance of aircraft”.
Tyabb airfield is not listed with the Australian Airports Association, is not an RPT (regular public transport) airfield and is not registered as an airport with the Civil Aviation Safety Authority.
That fairly conclusively establishes the privately-owned airfield as a small recreational facility that includes some aircraft-related businesses and is strategic, being the sole significant landing strip on the Mornington Peninsula, where road accidents, bushfires and police operations are frequent but do not often require helicopter help from a base such as Tyabb offers. … and at work.
So why should it get $100,000 of ratepayers’ money in a lean budget year? In 2014 the state government rejected Tyabb’s request for the helipad and fuel storage facility, stating that “a number of the proposed upgrades did not rate highly against the economic criteria of the Regional Aviation Fund” – clearly another financially straitened organisation.
The department then in charge of aviation approved a number of other works sought by the aero club, including new runway lights, substantial work on the taxiway, replacement of runway crossovers and a damaged apron.
Not approved was road access to connect the new hangar/triage centre directly to Stuart Rd, which borders the airfield. The shire later provided half the cost – some $50,000 – for this in 2015, against shire officers’ advice. This shire contribution is detailed on the club’s proposed infrastructure plan, which Bandicoot has seen.
Now the club is back for nearly three times that much, on what Bandicoot believes is flimsy ground.
The new application for shire funds totalled $128,000 plus GST – $120,000 for the concrete helipad and drainage, $5000 for lighting and $3000 for taxiway line marking.
That’s $128,000 plus GST, for a total of $140,800. The shire appears to have set aside $100,000.
To justify its $140,800 application the club’s key issues were:
■ lack of a large landing pad for emergency helicopters
■ the concrete surface is safer than grass for large helicopters, which risk sucking debris into turbines
■ the strong, dangerous rotor blast from such large helicopters
■ the impossibility of landing such craft on grass could mean they may impede hard surfaces such as runways
■ the risk to emergency operations due to lack of fuel locally
■ any required evacuation of significant numbers in a natural disaster would be imperilled without a concrete helipad
Against these points are the fact that police and ambulance helicopters can usually land near the site of incidents to which they are called, and fire-fighting helicopters can refuel in paddocks or at nearby airfields, including Tooradin and the grassed Phillip Island facility (pictured).
The club’s application stated that aircraft would need to refuel at Moorabbin or Essendon if no Avtur (aviation turbine) fuel was available at Tyabb.
An information sheet from the State Aircraft Unit, an amalgam of Country Fire Authority and Sustainability and Environment personnel (now part of DELWP), states that Elvis, the huge orange fire-fighting helicopter, requires a landing area 150 metres in diameter.
Some query whether Tyabb has adequate space for Elvis to land comfortably at the site designated for the concrete pad.
That possible constraint, plus its fuel thirst and the weight of water it carries to fires, means it is more efficient when teamed with a 35,000-litre fuel tanker or mini-tankers close to the fire, which may be far away across the peninsula at Rye or McCrae.
Like all helicopters, Elvis requires only a level surface, often grass, from which to operate. And a water supply, of course, although this massive machine can fill its water tank via snorkel from any body of water, including the sea.
While the $100,000 concrete helipad appears to have made it into the proposed 2017-18 budget, the shire may yet receive last-minute submissions or have last-minute thoughts about whether it should fund such a facility.
The aero club has not, in the view of some, provided a sufficiently closely argued case for this expenditure in these tough budget times.
It cited only vague evidence in support of its submission – a missing diver at Portsea in 2012, an unsupported claim of “lost operational time owing to lack of facilities on the peninsula”, and unspecified Police Air Wing problems in the even-numbered years from 2010 to 2016. What happened in 2011, 2013, and 2015, Bandicoot wonders.
Bandicoot assumes more detail of the airfield’s operation, possibly in the form of log book records and the like, was attached to the submission sent to the shire. Such material appears not to have been sent to Regional Aviation Fund bureaucrats as part of its request for improvements mentioned previously. Tyabb airfield.
Perhaps, with helicopters’ operational versatility, consideration for a refuelling solution other than at Tyabb – perhaps a tanker more centrally located on the peninsula – would reward investigation. Bandicoot believes some seven tankers are positioned around Victoria for emergency work.
Phillip Island’s airfield, close to the Penguin Parade and grand prix circuit and 10 minutes or less flying time from Tyabb or the peninsula hinterland, is regularly used for helicopter refuelling from its aviation fuel supply. Air ambulance pickups are rare at the island’s airport, as apparently they are at Tyabb.
Councillors are sure to have a few projects on their wish lists that would be of far more community benefit than a concrete helipad already knocked back by government experts as a low priority. Besides, the airfield got $50,000 from the shire just a year or so ago.