New CQ flight route gets Federal Government attention
THE DREADED Longreach to Brisbane to Rockhampton dogleg flight could be a thing of the past as one local councillor takes the fight for the east-west service to federal parliament.
Last week, Councillor Neil Fisher met with the Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack, Capricornia MP Michelle Landry and Blackall mayor Andrew Martin to present a business case for proposed flights between Rockhampton and Longreach.
Currently, a traveller from Longreach wanting to get to Rockhampton (or vice versa) either faces an expensive, lengthy return flight with stops in Brisbane, a 7.5-hour drive, a 10-hour bus ride, or a 14-hour train ride.
Cr Fisher said the business case he presented identified around 17,000 travellers would utilise the direct flights each year, enough to sustain six return flights a week on a 38-seat plane.
He returned home from his brief visit to the nation's capital confident that the flights were now the "squeakiest wheel in Central Queensland".
"For the last two years, we have been working on a business case to prove the viability of the east-west flights," Cr Fisher said.
"We were requested to come and present our business case to Canberra, with the possibility there of having a trial.
"Michelle Landry arranged the meeting as we felt there was a strong case for between 12,000 and 17,000 passengers a year.
"The research would suggest the higher end of those figures."
Cr Fisher said the business case for an east-west service was very well received in Canberra and was confident the service was becoming more than just a pipe dream.
"There was a lot of positive response to the case," he said.
"We have also had very productive meetings with state departments and Translink.
"Everyone we talked to agreed that it was a good service, it was just a matter of when and how much is needed to get it off the ground."
Cr Fisher said the business case identified people that would use the service due to figures on those that already make the trip by other means, but he is confident there is a sector of the community in Central and Western Queensland that simply don't travel due to the lack of options.
"There is an unknown demographic in our business case, but our case is very, very strong due to the figures on travellers we do know," he said.
"Of the aircraft we identified in our research (38-seater, six times a week), we found that we would have a 74 per cent average load factor.
"Anything over 50 per cent usually gets an interest from the airlines."
Cr Fisher said a triangulated service was also factored into the business plan which could incorporate Barcaldine and Blackall.
He said there were many ways the flights would benefit the communities involved with the proposed flights.
"One of the most alarming figures that came up in the business plan was that, each week, 39 passengers would use the service for medical treatment," he said.
"This means there is a part of the community that are currently taking a very long flight, bus travels or car rides while requiring medical care.
"Students in Rocky's boarding schools would be able to get home a lot easier on weekends and that will bring Queensland families closer together.
"We have also seen the rise in dino-tourism and the flights could link the the Mount Morgan and Winton sites and boost the industry."
The next step for Cr Fisher is to approach a potential operator to determine the costs of an east-west service before making a formal application to government.
There is no timeline for when the flights will begin but Cr Fisher hopes the project would garner funding to trial the flights before 2021.
"Three years ago everyone would tell me 'don't worry about it' or 'they'll never listen' but I can honestly say, every level of government are taking our proposal very seriously," he said.
"It's the closest we've been in 30 years."