Albany MP Peter Watson said he would support any future moves from the City of Albany to pursue the idea of direct flights to Albany from Eastern States capitals.
A direct route between Busselton and Melbourne was announced last Friday, with Jetstar Group chief executive Gareth Evans predicting it would inject 60,000 visitors and $40 million into the region.
City of Albany chief executive Andrew Sharpe said there would need to be significant upgrades to Albany Regional Airport before it could accommodate bigger planes.
“Albany Airport is only rated to accommodate 100-seater aircraft such as the F100s used by Virgin Regional Australia, and hosting larger aircraft than this would require significantly more resources and infrastructure, such as the reinstallation of passenger security screening and upgrades to the runway,” Mr Sharpe said.
He said the City’s priority was meeting the community’s needs through its existing partnership with Rex and Rio Tinto, but direct interstate flights would present new opportunities.
“An economic trigger to support upgrading the airport is about 100,000 passengers per year and we’re currently achieving about 62,000 with regular passenger and FIFO flights,” he said.
“That’s still a busy regional airport and provides a very important service to Albany, but growing that would provide a positive economic benefit to Albany and the region and we’re open to exploring those opportunities with the State and Federal governments.”
Mr Watson said he would support the City in any efforts to attract direct routes from the east coast. However, the Albany MP emphasised that the financial risk of the direct flights between Melbourne and Busselton lay with the City of Busselton.
“The State Government is not contributing to the cost of flights or subsidising the scheme in anyway. All the financial risk is borne by the City of Busselton,” he said.
“If the City of Albany want to enter into a similar scheme of direct flights from the east coast with a major airline, then I would support them in that.”
The development of the Busselton Margaret River Airport is being driven by more than $70 million of investment from the Fed-eral Government, State Government and City of Busselton.
In June, WA Tourism Council chief executive Evan Hall talked down the chances of Albany securing direct flights from the Eastern States, saying the city lacked the lure of exotic locations such as Kununurra.
“The question fundamentally is: is there enough demand? Clearly the answer is no,” Mr Hall said in June.
“You’d need at least 100,000 passengers (a year) to make it worthwhile for someone to put a service on.
You’d need a major attraction, a significant investment in hotel development and you’d need to underwrite or charter a service for three to four years before it became a regular market.”
Both Mr Watson and Mr Sharpe said Albany had the attractions to draw Eastern States visitors.
Amazing South Coast chief executive Peter Grigg said Albany would benefit through “flow-on effects” from the Melbourne to Busselton route.
“It’s an opportunity now to get more people into our area. All we’ve got to do is educate them on the fact there’s more to see and do here than in Bunbury and Marg-aret River,” Mr Grigg said.
“We get a little bit of the flow-on effect from this. We get the benefit of people coming and using these direct flights and saying, ‘We did Busselton and Margaret River last year, we’ve got a special on this flight this year — what else can we do?’”