Customs, quarantine and immigration personnel were at the Whitsunday Coast Airport yesterday in preparation for the region’s first international flights.
Scott Waters, who is interim chief executive officer of the newly formed Whitsunday Coast Airport and Infrastructure corporation, said he’d been working very closely with Dawson MP George Christensen to get to this point.
“And now it’s real – to get them up out of Canberra and to get them here, we’re really appreciative of the department for coming up – but also the work that’s been done by George in advocating,” he said.
The border agencies were specifically looking at the requirements for services from New Zealand, which Mr Waters believes could be operational by winter 2016. He said opening the region up to New Zealand first, not only tapped into an existing market but posed less work from a logistics point of view.
Using the same aircraft types the airport currently receives, no modifications to the runway would be required and only a dedicated arrivals area would need to be built.
Mr Waters said a space outside the existing baggage collection area had already been identified for this and he noted New Zealand was reasonably low risk from a quarantine and bio-security perspective.
He said the exact nature of what needed to be done would be very much subject to the approval of the agencies visiting yesterday, but he was confident one service per week could be up and running within a matter of months.
A model for establishing New Zealand services already exists at the Sunshine Coast Airport, designed by the same architect as Whitsunday Coast.
Mr Waters said the Sunshine Coast started with one service per week just three years ago and had already grown this to three flights per week during winter.
“They’re only an hour up the road from Brisbane and people said it wasn’t going to work, ‘you’re too close to such a major airport’, but it has worked,” he said.
And Mr Waters believes it will work for Whitsunday too, with not only passengers but export opportunities also in the mix.
“It’s been proven time and time again that as airports develop and grow, economies and regions grow as well,” he said.
“It means more jobs in Bowen, it means more jobs in Proserpine being the closest township to the airport and then of course the tourism industry throughout Airlie Beach, Cannonvale and the islands will be positively impacted.”
The current plan is for the existing airport to be modified as required, running as a domestic facility during the day and an international terminal at night, with one service per week from New Zealand arriving between 3 and 5pm on a Saturday and departing by 7pm.
Mr Waters said discussions around divesting up to 49% of the newly formed airport corporation in a public / private partnership were ongoing and should be finalised by April.
Meanwhile council is also talking to the State Government about the possibility of buying the reserve land on which the airport sits and converting it to freehold title. Mr Waters said council would not be permitted to on-sell the land.