Originally written by NATHAN ANDERSON
SHARP Aviation will begin passenger air services from Hamilton by February.
The Civil Aviation Safety Authority gave approval for the service in October, with the shire rubber stamping the proposal on Wednesday night.
The service is expected to run from Hamilton to Warrnambool to Essendon.
Sharp still needs the approval of Moyne Shire and Warrnambool City Council, the joint owners of Warrnambool airport. Moyne is due to vote on the matter on Monday night, with Warrnambool to vote some time next year.
It has been about 18 years since Hamilton has been serviced by a commercial passenger airline.
Manager Malcolm Sharp said services were planned to begin in early to mid February 2004, subject to local and Federal Government support.
“We have been working hard over the last 18 months to get this new service up and running,” Mr Sharp said.
In 2000, the Hamilton-based business, which has been operating for 13 years, was awarded a five year contract by Alcoa Australia to transport their personnel from Essendon, Avalon and Portland.
“We currently conduct 20 flights per week and carry around 4500 passengers per year between these ports,” he said.
“The new service will see our flight schedule increase to 48 flights per week across the network and we are aiming to build our passenger base to around 10,000 by the end of 2004.”
Fares are expected to range around $85 one way to a maximum of $340 return.
It would also boost staff numbers from 16 to 21 by the start of the year.
Sharp employed consultants Airbiz to conduct a feasibility report and business plan, and during the last six months, former Southern Grampians Shire economic development manager, and now private consultant, David Miller, to lobby local, State and Federal Government on their behalf.
“We have received tremendous support so far from local businesses we have consulted and we deeply believe that our airline will provide a much needed community service for the region,” Mr Sharp said.
He said an airline would not only cater for business but provide a crucial link for education, community and health services.
Vital to growth
Southern Grampians Shire Mayor, Don Robertson, welcomed the move, saying the service was vital to continuing the economic growth of the district.
“One of the long term goals of the shire has been to reinstate air services into the town and shire,” he said.
It was part of the council’s plan for 2003-06 to develop a strategy to upgrade the airport, including support for establishing a scheduled air service to Melbourne.
“The shire has maintained the aerodrome to Civil Aviation Safety Authority standards and a recent audit indicated that only minor works need to be undertaken to attain the standard required for a regular air service.”
Member for Wannon, David Hawker, said the announcement was “fantastic”.
“It’s one of the most significant developments in Hamilton in years,” he said. “The value of an air service can never be underestimated.”
He said it was critical that the air service received support immediately to ensure its long term future.
Mr Miller said the result was excellent news for the region.
“There’s still a little way to go yet, because the proposal concerns Southern Grampians, Moyne Shire and Warrnambool City Council.
Great step forward
“Southern Grampians supporting Malcolm Sharp’s proposal is a great step forward.”
He said that a lot of modelling had taken place with business to ensure support for an airline.
Iluka Resources Murray Basin general manager, Peter Beilby, also welcomed the decision.
“We think that’s a great move,” he said.
He said he was constantly travelling to Melbourne and Western Australia, while other staff travelled regularly.
The company was always looking for alternative transport arrangements, he said.
In September last year Sharp moved its maintenance facility from Hamilton to Portland to better serve the airline’s needs.