AVIATION group Sharp Airlines is preparing for take-off with passenger services to resume between Warrnambool and Melbourne.
The regional carrier is seeking to re-establish services from Warrnambool Airport within four months following a decade-long hiatus.
The move would mean Sharp Airlines’ present Melbourne-Hamilton-Portland route would be altered to Melbourne-Warrnambool-Portland, with management responding to demographic changes in the south-west.
Sharp Airlines director Malcolm Sharp said population and economic growth in the Warrnambool area were key considerations in the re-routing decision.
“The negotiations with councils in the Warrnambool area have been very positive and we’ve been impressed by the growth there in recent times,” Mr Sharp said.
“We hope to sit down with Warrnambool City, with Moyne and other stakeholders for a final round of negotiations over how we’ll proceed with passenger services. If that’s successful, then we’d envisage a January 2015 start date.”
Mr Sharp said the last time the regional carrier operated passenger services out of Warrnambool was 2004, with Ansett and Regional Express also operating air links in the 1980s and 90s.
Prices for Warrnambool-Melbourne flights would likely range between $80/$90 to $250/$300 one-way, dependant on timing and availability.
Flights between Warrn-ambool and Essendon airport generally take 45 minutes, 30 minutes of which the aeroplane is airborne.
Warrnambool City Council chief executive Bruce Anson said the return of passenger flights would open up greater business opportunities for the region.
He said there was a cultural barrier for many urban dwellers who were less keen to travel more than three hours to the south-west by train or motor vehicle.
“While this will be great for Warrnambool people wanting to travel to Melbourne and back again, it’s far more than that,” Mr Anson said.
“The business opportunities of having a dedicated passenger service shouldn’t be underplayed.
“The distance between Warrnambool and Melbourne isn’t as great as that between Melbourne and Warrnambool. What I mean by that is city people see travel to here as a long haul compared to people in the south-west, who are used to travelling long distances.”
Southern Grampians mayor Albert Calvano said Hamilton residents were disappointed with the decision but understood the reasons behind it.
“We have been aware of the reduced patronage for some time and been advocating on behalf of the Hamilton passenger service into the state government,” he said. “Sharp Airlines has been a loyal business in Hamilton and we are very pleased that the pilot school and other existing staff are to be retained in Hamilton.”
Patronage out of Hamilton declined following the end of construction work at Macarthur Wind Farm and refurbishment of the city’s base hospital.