TAKE-OFF: Councillor Neil Fisher and Capricornia MP Michelle Landry get a first look at the newly upgraded Rockhampton Airport runway
TAKE-OFF: Councillor Neil Fisher and Capricornia MP Michelle Landry get a first look at the newly upgraded Rockhampton Airport runway JACK EVANS

The large-scale runway upgrade that no one knew happened

THE Rockhampton Airport runway has received a multi-million-dollar facelift under the cover of darkness in order to ease the effects of flooding on the runway.

The project carried out by a specialist contractor Fulton Hogan, which has resurfaced runways all over the world, implemented a grooving technology which allows water to drain off the runway quickly.

Grooves (pictured) run horizontally across the entire length of the runway on a slight downward angle, making it impossible for water to pool.

Councillor Neil Fisher said this upgrade would allow the runway to be operational faster after flood events which have plagued the airport in the past.

"To be able to have the Rockhampton airport actually operational after a flood event days earlier than before, that will have a massive impact on the economies of Rockhampton and the whole of Central Queensland,” he said.

The project was completed in sections and all work was done at night as to not impact scheduled flights.

As the mix used for the resurfacing set almost instantly, the runway was able to remain completely operational during the upgrade.

The project involved a workforce of more than 100 workers, but many residents may have been completely unaware that a large-scale upgrade of the runway had even occurred.

Groove technology on the newly resurfaced runway
Groove technology on the newly resurfaced runway. JACK EVANS

Rockhampton Regional Council Mayor Margaret Strelow highlighted the importance of a fully functioning airport.

"Rockhampton Airport is vital to the growth and diversification of Rockhampton and wider Capricornia economy, providing inter-regional linkages and supporting key sectors of transport and logistics, tourism, defence and agriculture,” Cr Strelow said.

"The aim of the project is to enable the airport to re-open faster after future inundation events, up to 8.5 days faster in an event scenario similar to the flood of 2011.”

Capricornia MP and Rockhampton airport regular Michelle Landry said the upgrade would also help facilitate existing services and upcoming improvements to the airport.

"This will also be good for future upgrades of the airport and will help international flights, military exercises and rescue services that come in here on a daily basis,” she said.

"This airport is incredibly important to the community and the economy of central Queensland and when it floods, things do grind to a halt, so I think whatever we can do out here is extremely important.”

The Federal Government's $5million contribution to the $13.6million upgrade - the remaining $8.6million was from the council - came partly as a result of Cr Fisher's unique style of lobbying.

Cr Fisher said he and the manager of the airport waited at the bottom of the steps of the Deputy Prime Minister's jet during a visit to Rockhampton, ready to present plans for the runway project.

Another government official requested at the last minute to use a conference room at the airport where, to their surprise, Cr Fisher was waiting with his proposal.

"The poor fellows couldn't get away from our proposals,” he laughed.

Cr Fisher and Ms Landry have their eyes set on securing the illusive east-west flights and the topic of lowering the cost of flights to the capital also surfaced again.

"Our business case for direct capital flights are now sitting with the airlines and our business case for the east-west flights have been presented to the board of an airline - that ball is in the airline's court now,” Cr Fisher said.

"The price of flights between Rockhampton and Brisbane are absolutely ridiculous, we really need more flights to come to this area when you look at these planes (referring to planes on the Rockhampton tarmac), and I believe that bigger planes with cheaper fares should come in to the area,” Ms Landry said.

"I have also spoken to Qantas and Virgin about why flights are so irregular and so expensive here, and we have also been approaching cheaper airlines to come here.”