Future of lounge is up in air

THE insurance funds might be in after a fire destroyed the Aviator Lounge last year, but it is still unclear what will happen to the site.

The terminal building at the Illawarra Regional Airport remains fenced off and empty almost a year after flames consumed the business - investigations at the time were unable to identify a cause.

Bendigo Bank Aerial Patrol general manager Harry Mitchell said the facility was missed, those working at the airport now leaving the site to find food during lunch breaks.

"The restaurant used to attract people to eat here, not only from the aviation industry, but also people from outside the area who want to have a good meal at a reasonable cost," he said.

Brett Kitely from Touchdown Helicopters agreed, saying pilots often flew from other regional airports like Bankstown to eat lunch at the restaurant.

"We get a lot of people who don't know it's burned down come in to ask us, 'where's the restaurant?'," he said.

"It would be a busier airport if we had a facility, definitely, or even just a meeting place."

It is understood Shellharbour City Council and operators working from the airport met last year to discuss a location for a new aeromedical facility, and in September the council endorsed a site directly west of the terminal building as the most appropriate.

Part of the new facility's design, including an 875-square-metre hangar and 299-square-metre operational building, overlapped with the destroyed building and an alternate terminal location was suggested to the east.

However, a council spokeswoman said the project's failure to receive Restart NSW Illawarra Infrastructure funding from the lease of Port Kembla meant the council ceased its direct involvement.

"But it continues to support a facility being built in the identified location at the airport," she said.

The state government has requested tenders for aeromedical helicopter retrieval services, which will include the provision of helicopters, flight crew, maintenance and training facilities and the helicopter base to operate from.

A Health NSW spokesman said tenders would close on April 15.

"The location and operation of the helicopter bases is the tenderer's responsibility," he said.

"Tenderers are at liberty to submit proposals that either utilise existing base locations or propose new base locations and facilities to meet the requirements of the tender specification."

Council has received a $1.1 million insurance payout for the Aviator site, which has been invested in a term deposit.

A report to the council earlier this month did not indicate how or when the funds would be spent.

The council spokeswoman said a decision had not been reached on the site's redevelopment.

"Last year, the council resolved to establish a Business Unit Board to apply a commercial perspective to its business activities, and in particular the development of the Illawarra Regional Airport," she said.

"The board will review the airport's draft masterplan and then consider and help formulate a business plan."

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