Work crews undertake repairs to the tarmac at the Whitsunday Coast Airport on Monday.
Work crews undertake repairs to the tarmac at the Whitsunday Coast Airport on Monday. Peter Carruthers

Stranded tourists 'not on' says operator

STRANDED tourists had to pay hundreds of dollars in taxi fares to travel to Mackay to fly out after recent heavy rain closed the Whitsunday Coast Airport.

Others coming to the Whitsundays had to fly to Townsville before driving south.

The debacle, at the height of the tourist season, has angered tourism operators who are demanding something be done.

The deluge dropped about 500mm of rain on the region in four days.

Passengers booked to leave the Whitsundays on Jetstar and Virgin flights were forced to make alternative arrangements and passengers planning to land at the Whitsunday Regional Council-owned facility simply couldn't.

Airport general manager Ben Jones said regulations governing commercial aviation stated the runway was required to pass an inspection which was to be undertaken by an Airport Reporting Officer - an office mandated by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority but a council  employee - but was made impossible as access roads to the airport were impassable.

Airlines were forced to cancel flights when the inspection was not made but Mr Jones said there was no problem with water on the runway.

However, comment was made on the airport's future.

"Council ... in recent years has developed concept designs ... and plans on rolling out improvements to existing facilities over the next 18 months," council said in a statement.

Shingley Beach Resort manager Nigel Pemberton said the closure was a serious issue.

"We only had three days of rain and we were full in the peak season and trying to juggle people was an absolute nightmare," Mr Pemberton said.

"We have had all this hoo-ha about the Airlie Beach town plan and we can't get people in or out, it's not on."

Mr Pemberton pushed the importance of tourism to the region and claimed the airport was operating at a "third-world" standard, but council told the Whitsunday Times it was the inability to inspect the runway that forced flights to be cancelled.

The council said it was in discussions with the TMR with a view to providing better access during severe weather events.

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