QantasLink’s new Q400 aircraft will offer more weekly return services for Central Highlanders.
QantasLink’s new Q400 aircraft will offer more weekly return services for Central Highlanders.

Take-off for new air services

CENTRAL Highlanders will no longer face fights for flights following the announcement of more than 888 seats available from Emerald after April.

Flyers – frequent or not – will benefit from an additional 888 seats per week, with 34 weekly return services, most of which will be operated by QantasLink’s new Q400 aircraft. The announcement is music to the ears of the Central Highlands Regional Council, which said the increase in services by 22% reflected the confidence in the region, and confirmed the council’s decision to upgrade the Emerald airport.

“Our passenger numbers have continued to grow every year,” Commercial Services general manager Col Dziewicki said.

“The airport is a regional asset that everyone can be very proud of.

“QantasLink’s confidence in the continued growth in demand for air transport services reflects the council’s vision for the airport to become a key part of the infrastructure driving the economic prosperity of the Central Highlands.”

It remains unknown whether the increase in flights will result in lower air fares.

Emerald averaged at about 10,500 passengers a month in the last financial year, which increased to about 13,200 in the six months to December last year.

Moranbah will benefit from an 86% service growth with an additional 868 seats, increasing weekly return services by nine to 20 flights, including an early morning Brisbane flight.

The Central Highlands Development Corporation welcomed the announcement, and said the increase in services would attract workers to the region, benefiting the local economy.

“There are a lot of opportunities for people in the region and QantasLink have been a fantastic partner,” CHDC general manager Sandra Hobbs said.

“The increase in flights supports the increase in growth and the attractiveness of the region.”

Ms Hobbs said the more accessible transportation services would attract families and younger populations to Emerald from outside the region, and help remove the stigma of isolation associated with regional areas.

But coal communities advocate Jim Pearce was hesitant to welcome the announcement with open arms.

“Qantas is always quick to jump on the opportunity to make the extra dollar,” he said.

“Good luck to them, but I just see it as an indication the fly in fly out workforces are intending to increase over the coming years.”

Mr Pearce said the increased services were simply about catering for the resource industry, and opening towns such as Emerald and Moranbah up to FIFO workers.

“They (mining companies) should stop pussy-footing around and tell people the truth,” he said.

“This is not about tourism. This is about increasing access to places like Emerald for FIFO workers.”

QantasLink executive manager Narendra Kumar said the increase in capacity would support the Central Queensland flood recovery effort.

“Regional Queensland has always been central to our operations and… we are ready to extend this across even more of our network to meet travel demand from local communities and industries, including the resource sector,” he said.

Demand from local coal and resource industries in Moranbah have resulted in the major expansion of services linking the town with Brisbane, and it is understood further Q400 aircraft services will follow after the airport upgrade is completed.

QantasLink’s fleet will include 12 Q400 and 22 Dash 8 aircraft servicing regional Queensland. The Q400 has a 74-seat capacity, while the Dash 8 aircraft has only 50 seats.

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