There were smiles aplenty, and many hugs, at Newcastle Airport on Monday morning when the first Melbourne flight touched down following the re-opening of the NSW/Victoria border.
The A320 plane load of passengers, on board Jetstar JQ474, landed at 11.50am on November 23, carrying mostly family and friends who had been separated by COVID-19 boundary restrictions since July 10.
A return flight – to Melbourne – also departed at 12.30pm.
Newcastle Airport CEO Dr Peter Cock was thrilled to see activity in the skies again.
“The first flight was close to full at 95 per cent capacity,” he said.
“The return trip was a little softer (70 per cent full) than the inbound flight but that’s not unexpected with border restrictions only lifting in Victoria overnight.
“Jetstar returns this week with daily flights to Melbourne.
“However, it will increase to double daily flights from next week, an early morning and a mid-afternoon service.
“Jetstar also hopes – on some days in December – to introduce a third daily flight to Melbourne.
“All the above plans [from Jetstar] are demand-led and subject to change, which is very common due to the volatility of COVID-19.”
Meanwhile, Virgin will be returning services to Melbourne from Tuesday, November 24.
“That’ll occur four times per week,” Dr Cock said.
“There are no indications from Virgin of an increase in services to Melbourne at this stage, but again this will be a demand-led decision.
“For December, services are on track to return to 80 per cent of total flights per COVID-19.
“Family travel over the Christmas break is expected to be a big driver in the industry’s recovery over this period.”
It caps off a couple of busy days for staff at the Williamtown facility.
Link Airways launched its first Newcastle-Canberra service on Friday, November 20, too.
It will be operated by the Canberra-based airline, who’ll fly a 34-seater Saab 340B Plus aircraft, with a flight time of just 60 minutes to the ACT.
The standard inflight offering includes hot and cold beverages and premium snacks with complimentary beer/wine available on all afternoon and evening trips.
Dr Cock explained the new service would offer the region greater choice and flexibility at a period when the skies are open again to leisure and business travellers.
“On the back of interstate borders re-opening, this is great news,” he said.
“Newcastle Airport is surrounded by a community that is very keen to travel and we see our job as helping to facilitate that demand.
“We’ve already seen strong demand into Brisbane and Gold Coast recently and the forecast numbers for Melbourne this week are very robust.
“We think travel between Newcastle and the ACT is also on a strong growth trajectory.
“So, it’s not surprising to see further frequency and diversity of product on this route.
“We look forward to working with Link Airways and all of our partner airlines to re-build connections between the Hunter and the rest of the country in the coming weeks and months.”