BRINDABELLA Airlines has played down suggestions the viability of its Orange service could be in jeopardy unless passenger numbers at the airport double.
The airline’s first flight out of Orange took off shortly after 10.20am yesterday, but despite the hype surrounding the new service only 10 passengers boarded the 30-seater plane.
When the airline announced the route in December, mayor John Davis said Orange would risk losing the second service unless passenger numbers in and out of Orange climbed to 100,000 each year.
Figures for 2011/2012 show 63,894 passengers used the Orange airport and Brindabella’s chief executive officer Ian Vanderbeek believes that is plenty.
“Newcastle only has 30,000 passengers a year with two airlines, so with 60,000 [in Orange] there is more than enough room for two airlines,” he said.
Despite yesterday’s first flight being only one-third full, Mr Vanderbeek expected bookings to increase during the service’s first week.
“Usually, the first couple of flights, it’s a bit quiet because people actually like to know we are coming,” he said.
Member for Calare John Cobb, who officially opened the Brindabella service, said it would benefit the whole central west.
While the airline maintains it will complement, not compete with, Regional Express (Rex), Mr Vanderbeek expects it will take some passengers away from the existing service, but will also attract newcomers who, in the past, would not have considered air travel to and from Orange.
“We do see growth in the market,” he said. “It gives the community an additional three services a day, particularly for people going from Sydney to Orange.”
Fares on yesterday’s flight started at $100 but some passengers paid as much as $220.
In comparison, Rex’s flights out of Orange yesterday started at $186.45 and the highest fare was $386.65, according to its website.
Despite the price difference, Mr Vanderbeek said the suitability of the flight schedule would be the key factor for most customers when choosing an airline.
Cr Reg Kidd was onboard the first flight from Orange.
In the past he has criticised Rex’s reliability and said the extra competition could force it to improve its service.
“In any business you can become a little bit less customer focused,” he said.
Cr Kidd believed customer numbers had the potential to increase to 90,000 a year.
“It can be sustainable if it is a reliable service with reasonable fares,” he said. “I know a lot of business people in Orange who have stopped flying because of the lack of reliability.”
Initially the airline will offer two daily services each way with 30 and 19-seat planes until March 30 when a third mid-morning service will start.