Getting passenger planes to fly in and out of the Illawarra has been “the most challenging and difficult” of all new routes for regional operator JetGo.
But, just under two weeks from the start date for regular flights to Melbourne and Brisbane, the Illawarra Regional Airport is finally – once again – ready for takeoff.
On Tuesday, the airline treated the first two plane loads of Wollongong passengers to a scenic flight over the region south to Batemans Bay to mark the return of passenger flights for the first time in almost a decade.
Welcoming passengers onboard, JetGo’s managing director Paul Bredereck noted that the Albion Park airport had posed a big challenge, as it “didn’t have a terminal, didn’t have security screening and you’ve got these great hills around the airport, which a really convenient for the aircraft!”
Read more: JetGo reveals cost of Illawarra flights
But despite these difficulties, Mr Bredereck said ticket sales so far had been “about 75 per cent higher than we’d expected” for flights to the Queensland and Victorian capitals.
“We hope and expect the market will grow to a point where it will require a larger aircraft… and we also expect there will be demand for other destinations, the Gold Coast first and other destinations thereafter,” Mr Bredereck said.
He also revealed that businesses, and overseas tourists were looking to use the service on a regular basis.
“The core business for us it the VFR – visiting friends or relatives – demographics and there’s been a lot of that here in Wollongong,” he said.
“But what we are seeing here that we didn’t see in other parts of regional Australia, is a much stronger demand from businesses.
“In the past week, we’ve had two companies open a corporate account with us… and we’ve also been in discussions with a Chinese tourism group.”
Shellharbour mayor Marianne Saliba – who was joined on the flight by mayors from Wollongong, Kiama and Wollondilly – said her city had “invested in the success of this service”.
She called on those onboard to “book yours flights to Melbourne and Brisbane”.
“What’s going to make this work is us using this service on a regular basis,” she said.
“We’ve got a catchment of over 500,000 and we should all be making this our destination for flights to Brisbane and Melbourne.
“[This will] establish our region as a logistical hub, opening up our tourism and business opportunities like never before.
“It was also important for us to provide link for people with families living elsewhere.”
Flights begin on Monday, October 30.
At the launch, there will be 10 flights a week to Melbourne and a daily flight to Brisbane.