Commercial passenger flights could be taking off from Albion Park airport as early as October, Shellharbour mayor Marianne Saliba announced on Monday.
Joining Whitlam MP Stephen Jones at the Illawarra Regional Airport to launch the details of council’s future plans for a $14 million upgrade, Cr Saliba said the airport was already prepared to take its first passenger flight.
Cr Saliba also said negotiations with a carrier – which is yet to be revealed but is likely to be operated under an exclusive agreement – were reaching “the fine print”.
The destinations for the service are also yet to be confirmed, however it’s believed the flights will connect the Illawarra to Brisbane and Melbourne.
The council has allocated $1 million towards installing a temporary, demountable-style terminal which will be used when the flights start operating.
“Once we have secured the carrier, we will finalise the work at the [temporary] terminal and have flights operating as soon as possible,” she said.
“The carriers are ready to start with the terminal we have now.”
As passenger numbers increase, the permanent terminal and other upgrades will be built.
“With more passengers, we would need to have a certain level of security and that’s what we’re looking to build, along with secure parking, longer term parking and short term parking – and just make a terminal that people will want to come to use,” Cr Saliba said.
Mr Jones said a regular passenger service, along with the $14 million upgrade, would help the “underutilised” airport to reach its potential and boost revenue for the region.
“I think this is one of the key things that needs to happen to boost economic development in the Shellharbour area,” he said.
“I’m confident that by the end of the year we can see regular services coming in and out their airport, and it doesn’t end there – I think there’s enormous capacity for us to see this as a hub for aviation maintenance and other businesses.”
He said he would be working with the council to apply for Federal Government funding through two regional grants schemes.
The council revealed it was once again considering the case for commercial flights in February, and has since completed a series of small works to prepare the runway and other facilities.
The new flights will begin almost a decade after Qantas stopped regular trips to Melbourne from the Illawarra.
The service operated for three years, from June 2005 to July 2008, when Qantas said it was winding down operations due to rising fuel costs and “shifting” demands.
According to the council, the airport’s catchment area now has a population base of about 300,000 people and includes the South Coast, Southern Highlands and Illawarra.
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