Lucrative airport plan a gateway to huge overseas markets
Top notch Whitsunday produce could land on international plates faster and at higher quality if a proposed airport linkage between the region and Toowoomba takes off.
Plans are in the works to secure flights between Wellcamp Airport and Whitsunday Coast Airport, which would deliver freight straight to Toowoomba's export hub and give travellers another option for flying into the Whitsundays.
Whitsunday Regional Council's aviation and tourism CEO Craig Turner said there had long been conversations about international freight and ways to get Whitsunday produce to market faster.
He said passengers could travel on the planes to and from both destinations, but from the trip from the Whitsundays to Toowoomba, the region's produce could be carried in the underbelly of the planes.
Mr Turner said the flights could be aligned to the three Asian routes Wellcamp currently operates each week - two to Hong Kong and one to Singapore.
At the moment, produce is loaded onto a truck in Bowen and transported by road to Brisbane.
"What we propose to do, rather than taking 24 hours to get to Brisbane, it could go 45 minutes to us at Whitsunday Coast Airport and then it could be at the Wellcamp export hub in an hour and 20 minutes," Mr Turner said.
Mr Turner said once produce was overseas, the produce could also be transited from Hong Kong and Singapore to two other huge markets - Europe and America.
"It is going to allow efficiencies to deliver high value produce directly to a consumer that is happy to pay high prices for good produce," he said.
"It takes away time and it looks after the produce that they have worked on and ensures it is in great condition."
Mr Turner said the plan also held significant potential for tourism, as 20,000 people flew from Brisbane to the Whitsundays in December alone.
He said connecting the Whitsundays with Wellcamp Airport would make it easier for people living west of Brisbane to fly into the region.
"If we can make it easier for everyone on the Wellcamp side … we could become a more visited destination because it is easier," Mr Turner said.
"They are not having to drive through the city into Brisbane.
"We might become more top of mind."
On the other hand, opening up a passenger route to Toowoomba would allow Whitsunday residents to explore the experiences in the Darling and Southern Downs, including award-winning wineries.
The flights could also create a business linkage between the Whitsundays and the many growers in the Lockyer Valley and Southern Downs regions.
Mr Turner said regular discussions were being held with the Wagner team as well as other stakeholders, and a presentation is due to be given to Jetstar in the coming weeks.
The council is also applying for $250,000 in funding through the North Queensland Economic Diversification Grants to help get the plan off the ground.
Mr Turner said the next steps were to prepare an up-to-date business plan and if the grant application was successful, it would allow infrastructure building to begin while discussions continue to secure the deal.
Right now, every time a plane leaves the Whitsundays there is an underbelly that is not being used to its potential.
Mr Turner said if airlines were able to yield more, they could make stronger commitments to the Whitsundays, which would help support sustainability.
"When you go through the fundamentals of what we are proposing it just makes sense," Mr Turner said.
"I think this has got traction because there are so many stakeholders from different industries that are benefiting from this."