THE HERALD'S OPINION: Newcastle to Adelaide flights a boon to both cities

Adelaide Airport
Adelaide Airport

NEWCASTLE Airport has been one of this region’s modern business successes, with a steady increase in passengers – and a phased improvement in facilities – to the point where it is quite clearly the state’s second-biggest airport with a throughput last year of more than 1.27 million passengers.

Newcastle Airport chief executive Peter Cock

Newcastle Airport chief executive Peter Cock

But Newcastle’s growth has been more incremental than anything, with new routes beyond the eight destinations on offer difficult to make pay.

Now, however, the operators of FlyPelican have announced the start of direct flights between Newcastle and Adelaide, initially each Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday, with ambitions of adding a Sunday service and eventually progressing to a daily schedule.

FlyPelican will fly the route using planes and staff leased from Brisbane-based fleet-operator Alliance Airlines. FlyPelican chief executive Paul Graham says extensive surveying of the market here and in South Australia shows strong demand for a service that at present needs either a drive to and from Sydney, or a flight routed through either Melbourne or Brisbane.

Most successful domestic air routes need a mixture of business and tourism passengers to thrive, and the presence of major defence facilities at both ends, as well as the Whyalla steelworks and the Newcastle rolling mills belonging to OneSteel, should provide a basis of business travel.

And while we think this end of the time saving – the direct flight should take just two hours and 10 minutes – the same applies for passengers departing from the Adelaide end, who now find Newcastle and the north coast of NSW far closer to them than was previously the case. As an indication of the sort of demand that FlyPelican anticipates, the Adelaide route will be serviced by either 80- or 100-seat Fokker jets, by no means the smallest planes to fly in and out of Newcastle Airport.

Although the airport exists primarily as a piece of infrastructure for its paying customers, it has also shown itself to be a source of income for its co-owners, Newcastle and Port Stephens councils. In the 2016-17 financial year it made an after-tax profit of $8.1 million, returning $3.8 million in dividends to the councils. In an era of often-privatised infrastructure, Newcastle Airport appears to be making a good fist of its financial management. Hopefully, the Adelaide services will add to the airport’s operational and financial success.

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