A JetGo passenger jet landed at the Illawarra Regional Airport on Thursday afternoon, giving a glimpse into what the region’s resurrected domestic flight service will be like when it starts in October.
Flying in from Brisbane, the 44-seater Embraer jet arrived in Albion Park after an hour and a half – despite 185km headwinds slowing the journey.
With three seats across (two seats on one-side and one on the other separated by an aisle with just enough standing room for one average height person) the planes flying in will be small compared to the full-service airlines flying out of Sydney.
However, managing director Paul Bredereck noted the seats has “about 40mm more room” than some international economy flights.
“Even thought the terminal infrastructure here at the Illawarra Regional Airport is fairly basic, people will have a quick comfortable, no hassles flight,” he said.
He also said the plane, with two Rolls Royce jet engines, could travel slightly faster than Boeing 737 jets operating other domestic services.
Tickets for flights from Albion Park to Melbourne and Brisbane went on sale on Sunday, and Mr Bredereck said there had already been about 200 seats sold.
“Within the first couple of days, we’ve sold a couple of hundreds seats, and that’s a very good early indicator,” he said.
He said the Illawarra sales had easily outstripped other coastal centres of – Port Macquarie and Hervey Bay, where the airline has cancelled or delayed flight services recently – but was on par with what was expected from the region’s large population base.
When the services starts, JetGo will fly nine return flights a week to Melbourne, and six return flights a week to Brisbane
Visiting on Thursday, Mr Bredereck said he would know about the feasibility of running Illawarra to Gold Coast flights within “three or four months”.
For mayor Marianne Saliba, being able to see the plane on the tarmac was “proof that this is actually happening.”
“This is a fantastic opportunity to actually see the type of plane that is going to coming here on a regular basis,” she said, looking inside the plane with other councillors.
“I’m comfortable – I’ve travelled on much worse than this – the seats are comfortable, there’s enough room to move around.”
She said she was pleased ticket sales had been strong in the first few days, as support from residents would make the service a success.
“I’m really proud of my Shellharbour council colleagues and the work they’ve done on approving this, because if we hadn’t done that we would still have this airport that was just dragging us down, costing us money,” Cr Saliba said.
“This way we’re going to see a return to our community financially, and when we start improving our businesses we have less pressure on our ratepayers.”