Passenger numbers have doubled at Gladstone in the last seven years, according to Minister for Infrastructure and Transport The Hon Anthony Albanese MP. Passenger numbers will further grow with Strategic Airlines' launch today of double daily weekday flights from Brisbane, made possible by recent runway expansions to accommodate larger aircraft.
The route is part of Strategic's domestic network approach to serve mining routes, head of commercial Damien Vasta says. (Internationally the carrier is looking at leisure routes not serviced or under-serviced.)
In opening the route, Strategic is taking the only other airline currently on the route, QantasLink, head on. Strategic knows that all too well, and the route is perhaps a personal calling for founder and chief executive Michael James.
"I grew up in Bundaberg and I know what it's all about to have one operator and trying to get back for a family wedding and being hit in the hip pocket," James said earlier this year.
Although Strategic's two daily flights cannot match the frequency of QantasLink, which has up to eight round-trips a day (1184 seats compared to Strategic's 608), Strategic hopes its jet Airbus A320 service, with business class and lower fares, will win passengers over QantasLink's Dash 8 aircraft. Even with lower fares, Strategic is being careful "not to enter price wars", Vasta says.
"I think there's an expectation with regional communities when they grow to a certain size that they shall be entitled to receive an aircraft that's more befitting to their growing stature," Vasta says. Gladstone's population is expected to grow 80% in the next two decades, according to Albanese.
There were reports Virgin Blue was looking to making Gladstone one of its initial routes for its turboprop fleet. The regional competition to Gladstone also picked up when Qantas said it would construct a Qantas Lounge at the airport after serving it for 29 years.
This competition underscores the financial significance of regional air transport to Australian carriers. As Qantas chief executive said earlier this year of the group's regional subsidiary, "QantasLink is the quiet achiever in the portfolio."
Gladstone's terminal has been named the the Creed-Kanofski Terminal in honour of the city's late mayor George Creed, and the Council's outgoing CEO Graeme Kanofski.