The new provider of passenger services for the Illawarra Regional Airport has revealed its flight schedule and ticket prices within hours of the announcement.
Fly Corporate will reintroduce flights to and from Brisbane and Melbourne as early as November 12 – with ticket prices starting from $199 one-way.
It was one of two flight services to put in bids to run regular services after the rapid collapse of former operator JetGo earlier this year.
Initially Fly Corporate will schedule 18 flights on the popular Melbourne route each week, and eight flights on the Brisbane route, although demand could see more flights – and even destinations – added.
Shellharbour Mayor Marianne Saliba said she was excited that services would be restored before Christmas, with the long-established company meeting council’s strict criteria.
“It’s the best feeling to get this result, and get planes back in the air and landing at Albion Park,” she said.
“It was a sad situation we found ourselves in with JetGo, but we’ve taken a great deal of care in selecting the appropriate airline.
“We have been overly cautious if anything so we weren’t putting people in the same position we all found ourselves in with JetGo – a situation nobody could have known was going to happen.
“And we feel completely confident Fly Corporate is going to be reliable and consistent and meet the needs of our community.”
Canberra-based Corporate Air, which operates the Fly Corporate brand, has been in business since 1972.
“We looked for a history and connection with the industry, not a company that was going to dabble in it and see how things went but one with the experience and capacity to make it work,” Councillor Saliba said.
Currently operating over 140 flights per week, Fly Corporate’s regional airline network already includes Armidale, Biloela (Thangool), Brisbane, Coffs Harbour, Dubbo, Inverell, Melbourne, Moree, Narrabri, Orange, Sydney and Tamworth.
Airline network and strategy manager Jeff Boyd said the new routes would be serviced by the company’s Saab340B Plus, a 34-seat twin turboprop aircraft providing full in-flight service.
“Built by Saab in Sweden, it’s the most popular 34-seater ever built,” Mr Boyd said. “It’s very reliable and economical, provides a full in-flight service with cabin attendant and bathroom and has two seats on one side of the aisle and one on the other, which is a very comfortable way to travel.”
Cr Saliba added: “These planes are being used at most regional airports in Australia. It’s not a jet plane, but they are a tried-and-tested plane as far as passenger services go.”
Mr Boyd said the company already flew charter flights in and out of the airport at Albion Park Rail, and had been watching developments with JetGo closely.
“We didn’t throw our hat in the ring when the previous service did as we were busy developing routes in the northern part of the state and southern Queensland,” he said.
“We do have the capacity to be here now, and having the knowledge of the numbers that were coming and going through the airport, particularly for Melbourne, gives us the confidence that the market is here.”
Demand for services would be monitored, with the “daily double” from Albion Park to Melbourne and return on the same day able to be easily implemented five days a week if required.
Flights will go in and out of Melbourne’s Essendon Airport, with airport CEO Chris Cowan stating: “Fly Corporate is exactly the right airline to provide a reliable and regular service to connect Illawarra to Melbourne.
“This direct service will save hours on a trip via Sydney and Melbourne Airport. We are currently in the process of a five-million-dollar upgrade to our terminal and are allowing plenty of extra space to cater for the anticipated growth of this important service.”
Fly Corporate has also had discussions with Shellharbour council about a possible Gold Coast route in the future. “My heart tells me there’s a spot for the Gold Coast, but we need to put a bit more research into it,” Mr Boyd said.
Cr Saliba added: “We know Gold Coast is one of the airports a lot of people from the region use, and that’s a commercial decision for the airline.
“Fly Corporate has exclusive route rights from Albion Park to Melbourne, and from Albion Park to Brisbane – that’s not to say other airlines can’t come to Albion Park and go to other destinations if they’re interested.”
Shellharbour councillors considered a confidential report into Fly Corporate’s bid at Tuesday night’s council meeting.
Councillors endorsed the report’s recommendations to enter into a Service Level Agreement with the company.
The four-year agreement sees the introduction of flights and also supports the ongoing sustainability and further development of the airport facilities.
Flights from the Illawarra Regional Airport
Commencing Monday, November 12, morning flights will depart Wollongong at 6.15am with an 8am arrival in Melbourne. The return service will depart Melbourne at 8.35am and arrive in Wollongong at 10.10am.
Afternoon flights will depart Wollongong at 1.55pm with a 3.40pm arrival in Melbourne. The return service will depart Melbourne at 4.15pm and arrive in Wollongong at 6pm.
Additionally, from November 12, eight weekly services between Wollongong and Brisbane will also be offered, operating on a Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Ticket prices start from $199 one-way
Online deals can now be accessed, with flights from $199 one-way. There’s also a ‘discount’ ticket of $299; a ‘saver’ ticket for $389 and ‘flexible’ ticket – which is fully refundable before the scheduled departure time – for $499.