QANTAS is on the verge of a new era in Gladstone, as it plans to fly Boeing 717 jets to the region in the new year.
The airline says the move will substantially boost the number of passengers it can transport each week.
The move would be a big step for Gladstone's travelling public, since Qantas has thus far relied on its Q400 turboprop planes, rather than jets. The Boeing 717 has greater capacity than the Q400.
Qantas group executive Rob Gurney flew to Gladstone yesterday for a meeting with key stakeholders, including Mayor Gail Sellers, to outline the airline's vision for Gladstone.
In an exclusive interview with The Observer, Mr Gurney said Qantas wanted to boost capacity ahead of growth in demand.
"What we told the group today is, we're going to be substantially increasing capacity into Gladstone by operating jets from the first quarter of next year," Mr Gurney said.
He said Qantas will make a more formal, detailed announcement in coming weeks.
Since Virgin Australia entered the Gladstone market two months ago, travellers have been hoping competition would lower prices.
Asked if increased capacity could help lower prices, Mr Gurney said capacity would be a factor.
"We'll have competitive prices and I think any increase in capacity is good news for the community. I think the benefits (from added capacity) will grow exponentially."
When asked if Qantas viewed Virgin's arrival in Gladstone as a positive development, he said the company had no qualms about operating in a competitive environment.
"We think competition keeps us on our game and keeps everybody honest," he said. "We operate in the most open market conditions you could possibly imagine."
He said the turmoil surrounding Qantas' industrial dispute with unions was "absolutely not" going to affect the reliability of services from Gladstone, since the outcome from current arbitration would be legally binding for all parties.
- The Boeing 717 is a twin-engine, single-aisle jet airliner, developed for the 100-seat market.
- The 717 has maximum range of 3,820 kilometres.
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