First flight for Qantas into / out of Bendigo. Picture: Bill Conroy PRESS 1.

A LARGE crowd gathered in the departure lounge at Sydney Airport’s Terminal Three gate 19 just before 5pm on Sunday, eager to fulfil their date with aviation history.

Gate 19 is at the absolute end of the terminal, far away from the bustling retail precinct jam-packed with travelers on a late Sunday afternoon, but that mattered little to those of us about to embark on a journey into aviation history.

Many of my fellow passengers paused for photos as they walked across the tarmac prior to board the plane, destined to be the first Qantas passenger service to land in Bendigo.

The excitement among the 44 passengers on board was palpable as we taxied from Terminal Three at Sydney’s sprawling domestic airport right on schedule, and conversation flowed freely throughout the 1 hour, 40 minute flight.

This was in stark contrast to my earlier flight from Tamworth, also on a Q300. On that flight, just as on most flights I’ve experienced, there was very little banter.

But this was never going to be just another flight. Not for us, for Qantas, or for Bendigo.

Shortly after takeoff, Captain Oliver Mitchell spoke to passengers from the cockpit and said he appreciated this was a special flight for a lot of people, including himself.

“It’s certainly a very special flight for me as well, being a Bendigo boy and doing my first flight into Bendigo almost 10 years ago to this day.”

The passengers broke into spontaneous applause, and did so again when Capt. Mitchell landed QF1407 on the recently constructed 1600 metre-long runway at Bendigo airport.

The 100 minute flight had gone smoothly, tracking over Canberra, Albury and then Shepparton before descending into Bendigo, where a massive crowd had gathered to get a glimpse of the flying kangaroo as we landed.

It was a moment of sheer joy, and those of us lucky enough to be part of will never forget.

We all knew none of us were on this first flight by accident and we had wanted to be a part of aviation history.

And we were.

A woman seated in front of me had left Bendigo at 4am yesterday morning to bring her son up to Sydney just to be part of the Sunday evening’s inaugural flight.

Retired hospitality identity Tony Ciancio surprised his wife Cathy and aspiring pilot grandson Julius with tickets for the flight, while musician Dave McMaster told me he too had targeted the first flight into Bendigo as an opportunity to not only catch up with family in the region, but to also experience an aviation first.

Sedgwick couple Brendan and Pam Drechsler spent a few days in Sydney before joining Sunday’s flight, having set their sights on being on board the first plane into, rather than out of Bendigo, some time ago.

Afterwards, Capt. Mitchell said he was thrilled to be given the opportunity, and the honour, of piloting the first Qantas passenger service into Bendigo.    

“It’s phenomenal… I know Bendigo well and I knew that the turnout would be big, but I did not expect it to be this big.”

Some in the crowd that lined the airport fence stood on ladders and trestles to get a better view as Bendigo gave the Qantas flight a rock star reception.

“It was just an absolute dream come true and coming in here, to be able to pull off the landing… I’m over the moon,” Capt. Mitchell said.

Greater Bendigo mayor Margaret O’Rourke handed out souvenir gift bags to passengers, and many again posed for photos prior to leaving the tarmac.

There was a genuine sense of excitement and joy, and it was wonderful to be associated with such a great occasion for Bendigo.

As of this week, Australia’s biggest city and its more than five million inhabitants is within a couple of hours’ reach of Bendigo.

Qantas has a market value of about $9 billion and is the world’s third oldest airline.

Internationally regarded as one of the world’s truly great airlines, its decision to invest in our market brings with it enormous opportunities.

As Capt. Mitchell said, “This isn’t just a service for Bendigo. It’s a service for everyone around the region.”   

– Peter Kennedy