Shellharbour council reveals companies vying to run Illawarra passenger flights

Two flight services have put in bids to run the regular passenger service out of the Illawarra Regional Airport.

With expressions of interest to run domestic flights closing this week – after the rapid collapse of former operator JetGo – Shellharbour council revealed that Corporate Air and Stratus Aviation were vying for the job.

The city’s mayor Marianne Saliba said she was disappointed that there had not been more bids but was confident the council would have flights back up and running before the end of this year.

“I’m disappointed we didn’t see more interest, but I’m not surprised, because if no airline operates from Albion Park, the big ones like Jetstar and Qantas will still have a captive audience in Sydney,” she said.

“They don’t care because the only people who will be inconvenienced will be the passengers from here who have to travel two hours to get up there.”

Cr Saliba said she did not know much about the two services that had lodged bids and had not seen details of their tenders, as these would now be subject to a stringent check by council officers before being presented to councillors.

She said it was hoped councillors would be able to make a decision on a new provider at their meeting on August 14.

Canberra-based Corporate Air operates the regional airline Fly Corporate from Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne to regional Queensland and NSW.

It runs a fleet of 34-seat and 19-seat planes, and is arguably the front runner in the race to fly out of Shellharbour after setting up a route from Dubbo – which was also caught in JetGo’s downfall – earlier this month.

Perhaps key for Shellharbour council, which Cr Saliba acknowledged had been “burned” by its experience with JetGo, the parent company spruiks a conservative approach.

“Corporate Air has not experienced the explosive growth that some aviation companies experience,” the company says. 

“The organisation has very deliberately taken a conservative, safe and strategic approach to business. As a result, it is one of the few organisations that has operated in the regional aviation market for more than 46 years.”

Charter company Stratus Aviation has also lodged an official bid. 

As JetGo’s financial turmoil came to light, the Queensland-based company was quick to declare its hand, telling one Illawarra news service it would ready to go within 30 days.

Then, it said it could operate three flights a week to Essendon Airport, increasing this to five flights within a month and setting up routes to Brisbane and Gold Coast.

Shortly afterwards, the company published a “clarification” of its position – noting the flight replacements were still up for discussion.

On social media, the company said it would be using “a modern twin engine 20-30 seater” to operate the flights.

A Shellharbour council spokeswoman said tenderers had been asked to provide flights to Melbourne, with separate criteria for a Brisbane/Gold Coast route.

“Also, as part of the stringent tender criteria tenderers were required to provide information about their financial capability via an independent third party,” she said.

“The evaluation and due diligence process has now begun and will be completed as soon as possible.”