By Matthew Pearce
Rockhampton Region councillor Neil Fisher has called for a ‘whole of region’ effort to boost the fortunes of the Rockhampton Airport as the threat of Covid wanes.
In last week’s edition of CQ Today, Capricorn Coast real estate agent Rory Wex called for direct flights from Sydney and Melbourne to Rockhampton to capitalise on the booming ‘seachange’ market.
Cr Fisher, who is Rockhampton Airport chairman, said prior to Covid-19 hitting in 2020, there were talks to secure two new destinations for the airport.
“We were very very close, one of the destinations was ready to go, and with Covid the whole face of aviation has completely changed, not only in Queensland but around the world,” he said.
“Rockhampton Airport has been working for many years to put forward the best business cases for new destinations but the airline industry works on such slender margins, it’s very much ‘bums on seats’ and security of passenger numbers is very very important.
“Surveys are regularly conducted at the airport to determine where people are going, where they’ve arrived from and those destinations that they would love to have direct flights to. That’s all brought forward as part of our proposals to the airlines.”
He said recent Covid lockdowns in southern states highlighted the fragility of the airline industry.
“What’s happened in the last few weeks has had a massive effect on the flying traffic coming into Rockhampton,” he said.
“We were heading to June being the best month that we’d had since Covid and then it was like a switch got turned on with the lockdowns and all of a sudden passenger numbers just plummeted.”
He said the closure of the resort at Great Keppel Island in 2008 had resulted in ‘185,000 passengers’ being wiped off the books.
“That’s the loss of your direct Rockhampton to Sydney and Rockhampton to Melbourne flights there.”
Cr Fisher said while the Rockhampton Regional Council talked to airlines on a regular basis, it had up “very much been a singular effort” until now.
“Coming out of Covid we’re going to continue to work with the airlines again to look at opportunities but the first thing will be to secure our bread and butter, which is those flights to Brisbane and North Queensland,” he said.
“We’re working very hard to make sure that we keep the number of flights and even increase flights into Brisbane.
“We’re also working on the northern run because that still isn’t quite perfect. It’s all about how we can work with the airlines to get the best value for our travellers have might have business in the north or need to travel between Mackay, Townsville and Cairns.”
He said it would take take a joint effort to take the airport to new heights following Covid.
“This is where it would be great to see the tourism and business community on the Capricorn Coast get behind the Rockhampton Airport because the more passengers we can get through the airport, the better opportunity there will be to put in proposals for other destinations,” he said.
“While there’s no international market this is a great opportunity to put those proposals forward and build tourism locally.”
Qantas and Virgin Airlines are the two main passenger providers at the Rockhampton Airport, with Alliance and Hinterland providing charter flights.
“Alliance Airlines has made a very good effort with their recent Rockhampton to Uluru charter flights and there could be an opportunity for similar destinations in the future,” Cr Fisher said.
“There also also other airlines that we are in conversation with, and that will play as the threat of Covid eases.”
Cr Fisher said the Rockhampton Airport had the largest business traffic of any regional airport in the state, with business traffic making up two thirds of all traffic at the airport.
“That’s why we’ve been able to recover from Covid so much faster than other airports,” he said.
“When the upgrades are completed in the next month or so, Rockhampton Airport will be one of the most passenger friendly airports in the whole of the country – the culmination of 20 years’ hard work.
“If we could boost the region’s attraction for tourism that would just be the icing on the cake.”
He said Rockhampton had missed out on opportunities for tourism funding support in the past because the city’s tourism numbers alone didn’t make the cut.
“You can argue that Livingstone Shire and Rockhampton’s numbers together would paint and much bigger picture,” he said.
“I think with people in the business community from throughout Central Queensland starting to think about the importance of the airport, if we could start garnishing interest and have a joint focus in two or three years we could be back to planning holiday packages.
“For example, if it’s a cold and miserable winter in Melbourne, why not come up to sunny Central Queensland here for the weekend and take advantage of our 308 days of sunshine a year.
“We’ve never been able to get that full support from outside the Rockhampton region. At a council level we have a good working relationship with Livingstone, so let’s get the business community behind us.
“As the threat of Covid wanes we could see our flight destinations rise.”