EMERGENCY discussions are under way with up to three different airlines as Tamworth Regional Council searches to find a substitute flyer for the Tamworth-to-Brisbane air route.
And the scramble to fill the holes created by the Brindabella collapse across the region widened late yesterday with news too that QantasLink had offered to take over the Moree-Sydney air route.
In Tamworth, the council has begun preliminary negotiations with three regional carriers in a desperate bid to find an operator to take the place of the grounded Brindabella airline.
Brindabella was placed into receivership on Sunday, stranding up to 2000 air passengers per week across the North West.
But the council says it’s already made approaches to three carriers to try to find someone to take over what was a service that provided for up to 720 passengers a week flying between Tamworth and the Queensland capital on 24 weekly flights.
Economic development director John Sommerlad said it was confident a new Brisbane flyer would be found – but it looked more likely to be later in the new year than any earlier.
TRC has admitted Brindabella owes the council “tens of thousands” of dollars.
The sum is believed to be up to $30,000, on the back of landing fees and security fees it owes for its airport use over a “few weeks”.
He said the council had struck a pay-in-advance deal a number of weeks ago, “to ensure the debt didn’t mount”, otherwise that debt could have been much greater.
Like other creditors, TRC was waiting to see the airline’s financial state or whether a new buyer could be found, but in the meantime wanted to find another carrier to take Brindabella’s place.
“It’s an unregulated route and isn’t attached to a Transport for NSW licence, so anybody could come in and operate that service if they wanted. You could have multiple operators.”
In the meantime, travel agents report passengers have taken to driving themselves, getting express coach tickets between the two centres, flying a two-leg QantasLink service to Sydney and then onto Brisbane, or driving to Newcastle and catching flights from there.
Philip Lyne, from Harvey World Travel, says he’d welcome a new flyer and hoped the council could find one, but in the current economic and industry climate he thought it was a “really tough gig”.
“It’s paramount for us, but by jingo, it’ll be an uphill battle,” Mr Lyne said.
“The current aviation environment is tough and in regional aviation, what it costs to operate and what the consumer wants to pay is the difficulty. It’s a tough gig in today’s environment because of operating costs like fuel and the Australian air climate because of our safety regulations, too.
“But with the appropriate aircraft it could be a profitable route.
“There have been six or seven carriers who have tried and failed since Eastern flew a nine- seater about 20 years ago. It’s a marginal air route without the right equipment type.”
Brindabella originally flew older 18-seater planes but introduced the Jetstream 29-seater just five months ago.