CONFIRMATION that Bendigo residents have embraced the opportunties afforded to them as part of the decision by Qantas to offer a direct flight to Sydney out of Bendigo is welcome news.

Our city has earned the unwelcome tag as perhaps the largest regional city in Australia not to offer residents and the business community a direct air link to a major city such as Sydney.

That is, up until now.

From late March, Bendigo residents can jump on a plane at the local airport and be in Australia’s biggest city less than two hours later.

The challenge from Qantas, as the service provider, has always been to use it or lose it, and it seems early observations point to the local community relishing the chance to fly locally.

It’s one month since Qantas and the state government delivered Bendigo an early Christmas present, with the added lure of potentially more air routes in the future should the option prove lucrative enough. 

One of the intangible benefits of the direct service to Sydney is the far easier access that residents of the harbourside city, and particularly businesses in Sydney, have also been afforded.

For years, we in the media have been told that there are some significant and important businesses interested in establishing a presence in our city and region who had been reluctant to do so due to awkward access they had to endure.

It’s now also time for these opportunities to emerge from the shadows.

The major upgrade of airport facilities that preceded the announcement by Qantas that it would offer direct flights to Sydney from March was an important first step.

We now have a runway capable of handling much larger commercial flights, and that multi-million dollar investment needs to be ratified by increased patronage at the airport, most noticeably patronage that involves a commercial carrier such as Qantas.

There is still a lot of work to be done within the airport precinct to deliver an airport that Bendigo truly deserves, and hopefully, further government funding can help achieve this. Upgrade of security is a must, and in this day and age, the lack of a fully fledged security screening service is a weak link in the airport’s armour.

While national standards to do not (yet) demand mandatory screening of all passengers, it seems that day is fast approaching.

None of would would or should begrudge anything that looks to enhance the safety and wellbeing of the community.

While all this activity occurs and the commercialisation of Bendigo airport continues, there is still the lucrative opportunity for Bendigo to be named as the host site for one of the two training school sites Qantas is seeking to establish in a regional location.

The company has pledged to spend millions of dollars to set up its training centres in a bid to address a worldwide shortage of pilots that is only expected to worsen in coming years.