No ‘profit’ on Narrabri route

THE owner of fledgling carrier FlyPelican has cast doubts over the likelihood of an airline emerging to fill the vacant Narrabri to Sydney service.

Steve Ferris, who this week had a joint venture proposal rejected by Narrabri Shire Council, said he failed to see how larger airlines could turn a profit on the route.

The former owner of Aeropelican, which he sold in 2008 and was later merged with Brindabella Airlines, said he would now move on and pursue opportunities elsewhere.

During Brindabella’s disastrous tenure on the Narrabri-Sydney route from July, 2012 to November, 2013, the failed carrier averaged just 10 passengers per flight.

Mr Ferris said he doubted the service was “commercially viable for anybody” unless the council thought “a little laterally” and worked in partnership with an airline.

“If I start something up as an airline now, I expect to make a profit and I believe that we probably won’t be flying in and out of Narrabri,” he said.

“In my opinion, Narrabri is no different from many other regional townships in that if they want air services they’re going to have to think a little laterally to have some sort of joint venture.”

At Narrabri Shire Council’s meeting last Tuesday, councillors declined an offer from Mr Ferris to become equity partners in the Sydney-based carrier, which operates 19-seat aircraft.

Mr Ferris said the decision was “fair enough”, but warned the council that if there was another airline genuinely willing to fill the void “they would have done it by now”.

“They want to have another airline just turn up and take all the risk upon themselves and at this juncture that’s not suitable for our operation,” he said.

“At this stage, we won’t be putting in any expression of interest to fly to Narrabri. We have another council we’re working with to put services in and that will be our priority.

“Maybe when we’re finished and have that one up and running we’ll have some further discussions about Narrabri, but at this stage we won’t be pursuing Narrabri.”

Virgin Australia has shown polite interest in the route and has informed the Narrabri Business Chamber it will consider the route over the coming weeks.

Narrabri councillor Bevan O’Regan said despite the fragility surrounding the regional aviation industry, he was confident the shire’s growth potential would attract an airline.

He said his preference would be for a 36-seat plane to fly Moree-Narrabri-Sydney like QantasLink had done previously.

“I just think a 19-seater (plane) is an awkward size and I think we deserve better than a 19-seater. People want to fly in more comfort,” he said.

“A 19-seater just won’t attract those people that want to fly in more comfort.”

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