China calling as Air Australia offers hope of direct flights from Cairns
Ready for take-off: An Air Australia flight attendant uniform is modelled in front of one of the Brisbane-based carrier's aircraft. The new airline will target international destinations, including Cairns.
Direct flights between Cairns and China by Australia's newest airline Air Australia could start as early as next year.
After the launch of the low-cost carrier in Brisbane yesterday, chief commercial officer Damien Vasta told The Cairns Post that Cairns was "a very important part of their plans", including a direct service to China. He said the airline would spend the next two months assessing the viability of the route. "Cairns-China will be part of our assessment over the next couple of months," Mr Vasta said.
The moves have been welcomed by Tourism Tropical North Queensland chief executive Rob Giason who has been lobbying airlines for a direct service so Chinese travellers can come straight to the region. "We welcome the opportunity to sit down with them and discuss with them their plans for China," he said. Mr Giason said he was aware that Air Australia had "aspirations" to fly to China and TTNQ would give help and support to the carrier.
Cairns Airport aviation business development general manager Rob Evans said encouraging talks had already been held with Air Australia. Airport and tourism leaders have been trying to lure a national Chinese airline to fly to Cairns with China Southern Airlines the only operator which has given the strongest indication by 2015.
Mr Vasta said while Brisbane was a vital port and the airline’s home base, Cairns, the Great Barrier Reef and the beauty of the North was a ‘‘critical’’ attraction, particularly for Asian holidaymakers. He said the carrier was targeting international destinations that had been ‘‘neglected’’ by other airlines, including Cairns. Mr Vasta said China was a ‘‘lucrative opportunity’’ for the carrier and for Cairns.
The airline has been granted rights to fly between Australia and China.Cairns is leading the growth in Chinese holidaymakers with numbers up by 39 per cent to the end of June to 71,672, above the national growth of 32 per cent (264,621). Mr Vasta said the airline would have to ensure a sustainable business case that would require the support of the Government, tourism bodies and the airport.
He said they would work with wholesalers in China to fill seats and obvious destinations were Shanghai and Beijing as well as other secondary ports within the country. Mr Vasta said it was unlikely they would compete on Cairns domestic routes but would consider mining charter operations.
Air Australia’s fleet will be boosted from three A320s to six by mid-2012 and one A330 to three by May 2012 with staff would also increase from around 300 to 3000 by 2021.
The airline is in the process of doubling its pilot base and adding a new Melbourne A320 pilot base to its already established A330 base. It has recruited 50 new flight attendants for its main trunk route domestic airline operation. In August, the company opened a new Brisbane-based engineering subsidiary to service its Airbus fleet.
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