BENDIGO residents have embraced the Qantas proposal to offer direct flights to and from Sydney with airline reporting “solid bookings” in the month since December’s announcement.
Preparations and early work have ramped up at Bendigo Airport ahead of the first flight on March 31.
With travel time to Sydney sitting at a little under two hours, the airline expects sales from corporate travellers to increase closer to the launch of the new route.
City of Greater Bendigo’s Business Services manager Ben Devanny said flying from Bendigo for business was an attractive option.
“The business opportunities are huge … two hours straight to Sydney, and then the international links, the feedback we’re getting is very positive,” he said.
“And we think north of Bendigo a lot people will hopefully choose Bendigo airport over Melbourne … and we think it will be great to help grow the region – tourists, friends and relatives, as well as business.”
Mr Devanny said the airport is in weekly discussions with Qantas to ensure Bendigo is ready for take-off.
“With the terminal building itself, we’re doing some minor cosmetic works, some painting, some floor coverings, some replacing of lighting in the roof that probably weren’t up to scratch,” he said.
Security fencing, carpark lighting and an increase in CCTV are also planned, with local contractors in negotiation to undertake the enhancements.
Bendigo council will invest up to $500,000 to complete the minor infrastructure works, which Mr Devanny said will help ensure the former kindergarten building is more functional as an airport terminal.
“There also just has to be some moving of non-structural walls internally to allow check-in areas and to just provide a bit more space for passengers to be waiting,” he said.
Mr Devanny said making the space a positive customer experience for travellers leaving and arriving to the city was a top priority.
“The good part is that Qantas have 68 other airports in Australia that they deal in, so they see all the good and the bad at the other airports, so hopefully we can learn from others.”
However, Mr Devanny admitted the airport didn’t want to over-capitalise on this round of works, with hopes the building has to expand in the future.
The council has indicated an additional $9.895 million is required for the building, to meet the long term needs of Qantas and the wider aviation industry.
The majority of that funding is being sought through applications to the Australian government’s Building Better Regions Fund and the Victorian government.
Upgrades to security will commence ahead of the first departure, with Mr Devanny confirming full screening of passengers and baggage will only take place in Sydney, with current regulations and the plane size not requiring similar practice on the Bendigo end.
Draft papers exist on enforcing the 50-seat planes being used on this route moving to full screening at regional airports, with Mr Devanny suggesting a change in rules could happen in the near future.
In light of this, he stated works being undertaken will factor in having to increase security at the airport.
“We’re planning the building on that regulations might change very shortly, and then that’s when it will go to a full 3D baggage screening of bags that go through and all passengers,” he said.
“And that’s not going to be needed at the start, but we’re trying to factor the building for if this has to happen in the near future, how do we work with Qantas to make sure we can meet those requirements.”
As a result of the new flights, Bendigo Airport will move to a seven day-a-week operation and have longer operating hours, signalling an increase in the need for local staff.
Ground-handling will be looked after by a third-party, with a possibility of local employment.
A Qantas spokesperson said the new route will create eight direct jobs, while further jobs will be created through travel opportunities the route presents”.
– Sam Kane