THE Emerald Airport was buzzing with excitement on Wednesday, as Virgin Australia touched down for the first time to showcase its new ATR 72-500 aircraft.
People flying to and from Emerald will experience the new planes themselves as of January 16, when Virgin Australia starts operating twice daily services between Emerald and Brisbane.
Virgin Australia general manager sales Justin Montgomery had more good news to share with residents, announcing flights would start from just $88 one way.
"The pricing is inclusive of food and beverage, and we're substantially below the current carrier's fares. We've brought competition into regional Queensland which is great news," he said.
"These are brand new, 68-seater aircrafts, so they are perfect for regional Queensland and very spacious. It's great for the community and there is a major commitment to this region."
Central Highlands Deputy Mayor Paul Bell said the council had been trying to encourage the services of another airline in the region for quite some time.
"We have seen 100% growth in two years. When you take into consideration there is a lot of charter growth as well, it was expected by the council that there would be a second carrier introduced," Cr Bell said.
"Today (Wednesday) is pretty historic, now to have a new service and a new carrier is really good news for the town and we are now becoming a very significant regional airport."
Although the advancement is good news for the town, Cr Bell said it did bring some pressure to bear for the council.
"Council is looking hard now at expanding the airport... we're certainly looking forward to more growth," he said.
Virgin Australia's introduction to the market will increase flights to and from Emerald by 572 per year, meaning there could be 1496 more people passing through the airport on a weekly basis.
Central Highlands Regional Council CEO Bryan Ottone said while there were plans for extensions to take place at the airport, it could accommodate the extra numbers as it was.
"A long-term plan is being developed for council's consideration and with the growth pressures that are only set to continue, there is a requirement to redevelop the airport," Cr Ottone said.
"Some of those priority areas will be the apron and an extension of the car park."
While Cr Ottone said there was money set aside in the budget each year for the airport, it was going to be a costly project.
"To do everything that is required... they are big dollars," he said.
"We have to get our strategic plans up first before we have a better idea of costings."
Cr Ottone said the council had also discussed formulating incentive arrangements to attract new airlines to the region and include existing airlines to provide new routes.
"At the moment we have one route - Emerald to Brisbane, Brisbane to Emerald," he said.
"We are working through that at the moment."
Morning flights Monday through Friday from Brisbane will depart at 5.45am, arriving in Emerald at 7.40am, with a return flight departing Emerald at 8.10am, arriving in Brisbane at 9.55am.
Afternoon flights will depart Brisbane at 4pm, arriving in Emerald at 5.55pm, with a return flight departing Emerald at 6.25pm, arriving in Brisbane at 8.10pm. Sunday afternoon services will also operate to this schedule.
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