Almost 3000 people have jumped on board the passenger planes flying into and out of Wollongong during the past month – meeting the operator’s expectations and sending morale soaring.
Thursday marks one month since the first JetGo Airlines flight took off from the Illawarra Regional Airport – a move that put the region back on the map as a passenger flight destination after a decade-long hiatus.
Since October 30, 76 return flights have taken to the sky from the Albion Park-based airport, carrying about 2800 passengers to and from Brisbane or Melbourne.
JetGo managing director Paul Bredereck said he was “very pleased” with the number of flyers, given the airline had budgeted to carry 3000 passengers in its first month of operation – 2000 on its Melbourne flights and 1000 to Brisbane.
Mr Bredereck told the Mercury passenger numbers on the Brisbane services were “slightly over budget”, while patronage on the flights to Melbourne were “slightly below”.
The airline operates 10 flights to Melbourne’s Essendon Airport and seven services to the Queensland capital each week.
“We’re pleased with where the trend is and the forward bookings into December are in line with, if not slightly better, than what we expected,” Mr Bredereck said.
Of the 76 flights in the first month, five of them saw disruptions for passengers.
Three of the disruptions were weather-related, while two were the result of delays that meant the planes would have arrived after last light.
Prior to recent approval from the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA), the aircraft were unable to land at Albion Park in the dark.
Wild weather wreaked havoc on JetGo’s first day of Illawarra flights on October 30, when a Wollongong-bound Brisbane service was diverted to Melbourne after encountering severe turbulence.
Another flight was cancelled due to persistent strong winds.
Mr Bredereck said a number of measures had been put in place at the airport to assist pilots in times of bad weather, including new instrument approaches.
The improved approaches align the aircraft with the runway they are landing on, preventing the need for them to circle beforehand, and will allow for a lower minimal descent altitude in times of low cloud or poor visibility.
“All our pilots have now flown the instrument approaches into Wollongong in the flight simulator,” he said.
“We’ve dialled the weather up in the simulator … they’re now well practised on that.”
The new approaches are yet to be validated by CASA.
However, the test flights required for approval should be completed by Christmas.
Meanwhile, JetGo’s discussions with the Navy to use Nowra’s HMAS Albatross as a back-up airport are ongoing.