Whitsunday Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Sharon Small­wood

WHIT­SUN­DAY Re­gional Coun­cil­lors have voted unan­i­mously on a pro­posal to de­liver in­ter­na­tional char­ter flights to the Whit­sun­days in 2016.

The pro­posal, for stages one and two of a three-stage process, has been pitched by AVMIN, a spe­cial­ist air char­ter firm ma­jor­ity owned by the Flight Cen­tre group.

AVMIN man­ag­ing di­rec­tor Paul O’Brien said stage one was about get­ting the air­port com­pli­ant in terms of reg­u­la­tions for in­ter­na­tional flights, while stage two was about find­ing suit­able car­ri­ers.

Mov­ing for­ward, he said stage three would en­tail us­ing Flight Cen­tre’s global dis­tri­bu­tion net­work to en­sure the flights were full.

“There’ll be work go­ing into up­grad­ing the air­port so in­ter­na­tional ser­vices can be op­er­a­tional (and) from there it’ll be easy to get char­ter flights in – but if there’s no­body on them it’s not sus­tain­able – so with Flight Cen­tre’s global reach, that will as­sist us,” he said.

Mr O’Brien said the first des­ti­na­tion con­nect­ing the Whit­sun­days to the wider world was likely to be New Zealand.

“And ob­vi­ously there’s a grow­ing mar­ket for Asia,” he said.

“It isn’t all about casi­nos – see­ing the reef and see­ing the Whit­sun­days is some­thing very ex­cit­ing that the Whit­sun­days, Proser­pine and Air­lie Beach can de­liver.”

While Mr O’Brien re­mained rea­son­ably “tight-lipped” about the po­ten­tial car­ri­ers, pre­fer­ring to “hold off un­til we get all our ducks in a row”, he did say Cathay Pa­cific was in the mix, along with “a num­ber of oth­ers”.

He said the cur­rent plan was to see New Zealand ser­vices es­tab­lished by mid-2016, with Asian con­nec­tiv­ity in the pipe­line af­ter that.

“We would have liked to have it for Chi­nese New Year, but that’s not re­al­is­tic,” he said.

Coun­cil’s CEO Scott Wa­ters said AVMIN were a recog­nised leader in de­liv­er­ing char­ter ser­vices and lo­gis­tics in Queens­land.

“(And) with the sup­port of Flight Cen­tre, AVMIN and the re­gion’s tourism in­dus­try, we will work to­wards de­liv­er­ing in­ter­na­tional ser­vices, via an in­ter­na­tional char­ter pro­gram in 2016,” he said.

Mr Wa­ters said it should be noted that af­ter stages one and two had been fi­nalised, coun­cil would be briefed prior to re­ceiv­ing any fur­ther rec­om­men­da­tions or a de­ci­sion be­ing made.

He also stressed this was all com­pletely sep­a­rate to the on­go­ing ex­pres­sion of in­ter­est process whereby coun­cil was seek­ing to part­ner with the pri­vate sec­tor in a joint ven- ture to de­velop and grow the air­port.

Mr Wa­ters added two Aus­tralian-based com­pa­nies had been short-listed in this re­gard, with coun­cil now in ne­go­ti­a­tions for bind­ing bids.

“This process will be com­pleted in the new year with coun­cil re­view­ing the bids,” he said.

“AVMIN and Flight Cen­tre are not par­ties to this process,” he said.

Mr O’Brien said it was “full steam ahead” with a 12-week sched­ule for stages one and two and ne­go­ti­a­tions hap­pen­ing in Can­berra this week.

Fed­eral MP Ge­orge Chris- tensen has al­ready said he would lobby the gov­ern­ment to pro­vide es­sen­tial cus­toms and im­mi­gra­tion ser­vices, ini­tially at no charge, to get the ser­vices started.

“The Lib­eral Na­tional Gov­ern­ment has been pro­vid­ing free cus­toms and im­mi­gra­tion ser­vices to the Townsville air­port since it be­gan in­ter­na­tional flights to Bali ear­lier this year,” he said.

“I have al­ready spo­ken with the Min­is­ter for Im­mi­gra­tion and Border Pro­tec­tion, seek­ing sim­i­lar ar­range­ments for in­ter­na­tional air­port oper­a­tions at both Mackay and the Whit­sun­days.”

FLY­ING HIGH: Plans are un­der way to in­state in­ter­na­tional char­ter flights at the Whit­sud­nay Coast Air­port by mid-2016.

AVMIN man­ag­ing di­rec­tor Paul O’Brien.

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