Flying high: Airport Master Plan sets course for more carriers, routes and freight bonanza

Ian Bushnell 21 April 2020 20
Canberra Airport

Canberra Airport’s international flights are attracting attention. Photos: Canberra Airport.

More low cost carriers, connections with China, and the continued growth of Canberra Airport as a freight hub are on the radar in the Preliminary Draft of the Airport’s 2020 Master Plan.

Over the next 20 years, the Airport envisages passenger numbers growing from the three million now using the facility to more than nine million, with built-in capacity to cater for expansion, and with relatively modest additions, the ability to look after 12 million passengers a year.

Head of Aviation, Canberra Airport, Michael Thompson said the airport wanted to build on the successful entry of Tigerair and the international carriers, Singapore Airlines and Qatar airways, to provide more destinations, more planes and more options for passengers.

“For people living in the ACT region that hopefully means rather than having to travel up to Sydney or down to Melbourne they can come to Canberra and enjoy the ease of getting away, as we’re finding the people going to Singapore but also to Doha are experiencing.

“It also means there will be more lost-cost options for people in our region who we know like to travel,” Mr Thompson said.

He said the Airport was in discussions with low-cost carriers such as Jetstar and with airlines about China and New Zealand.

This year’s ACT Government visit to China had begun a relationship that the master plan sees bearing fruit within five years.

“We know that airlines have got to be convinced there is a viable economic return for them for flying on a route and we also know that a lot of it has to do with the relationship and trust, and certainly the trip to China has both enlightened Chinese carriers about the opportunities here but also commenced that building of a trusting relationship.”

The master plan, which has five and 20-year horizons, says the international flights established at Canberra Airport are making ripples in the market, showing that both can be successfully run out of Canberra.

“The Qatar option also shows for an airline that’s not getting the load factor it wants out of Sydney, tagging it on to Canberra provides them with an alternative that gives them access to a population of close to a million people within three hours’ drive,” he said.

“That increases the potential catchment, and we know the Canberra and region economic data is very strong.”


Low cost carrier Tigerair has been well supported and could increase its services. Jetstar is also in the Airport’s sights.

But the acknowledgement from Lonely Planet a couple of years ago, tourism numbers that continue to grow and strong interest in Canberra, also made the national capital an attractive inbound destination.

Long term the Airport hopes to see routes to Asia, including Bali, Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong and Japan, and to the Pacific, with connections to the US.

Mr Thompson hoped to see the return to Canberra of routes such as Hobart, and that Darwin made sense, as well as more regional destinations such as Albury-Wodonga (within five years), Cairns and Ballina/Byron Bay.

What he called the third piece of the puzzle, which the Airport was close to cracking, was freight export.

Coming out of a very rich primary produce region, it required a quick turnaround for perishables.

“The fact that you can pick your cherries in Young at 12 o’clock, load them on a truck at two, have them down to Canberra at four and have them in Singapore at five the next morning is a really attractive proposition and one we want to explore and develop,” Mr Thompson said.

Singapore opened up to Asia and Europe, and Doha in the Middle East.

“It’s not just cherries, it’s oysters down the coast, fresh meat produce. There is a range of opportunities we see for exporters from this region who are currently going to Sydney or Melbourne,” Mr Thompson said, noting the advantages of no night curfew, no capacity constraints and not having to deal with Sydney traffic.

Mr Thompson said the Airport’s relationship with Qantas was now ‘very good’ after a fractious time over flight cancellations.

“They’re our major partner, from time to time partners have disagreements but we’re working well with them,” he said.

The master plan says the Airport is continuing talks with the ACT Government on road links to Majura Parkway and the city, and the capacity of Pialligo Avenue but Mr Thompson said it would be premature to talk about Airport contributions to developing these.

Across the Airport site, jobs are forecast to grow from 14,000 now (9,500 confirmed in Brindabella Business Park), to 16,000 by December 2020, 20,000 by 2025/28 and 36,000 by 2040 in response to growth in aviation as well as retail and office expansion and the region’s economy.

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20 Responses to Flying high: Airport Master Plan sets course for more carriers, routes and freight bonanza
Mike Glew Mike Glew 9:44 pm 29 Aug 19

Has Canberra Airport talked to DHL about moving their Sydney operations to CBR?

Capital Retro Capital Retro 9:52 pm 26 Aug 19

“A direct flight to Japan would be my call.”

You must be very wealthy.

Capital Retro Capital Retro 4:07 pm 26 Aug 19

There is no likelihood that the airport will integrate with rail of any sort, especially a VFT to Sydney.

Read up on what the introduction of the TGV did to the airline business between Paris and Lyon.

Sarah Rollings Sarah Rollings 7:16 pm 25 Aug 19

Fast rail connection needs to be considered in the overall plan....just saying.

Robyn Theobald Robyn Theobald 6:42 pm 25 Aug 19

Oh I wish that there were direct flights again from NZ, SO much nicer than flying into Sydney

Paul Evans Paul Evans 3:55 pm 25 Aug 19

A direct flight to Japan would be my call.

Jerome Boland Jerome Boland 3:05 pm 25 Aug 19

How about a focus in bagging handling... How can it take sooooo long for bags to hit the carousel in an airport the size of Canberra???

    Peter Mackay Peter Mackay 7:55 am 26 Aug 19

    They have to be checked for valuables. These airport dreams don't finance themselves, you know!

MERC600 MERC600 12:54 pm 25 Aug 19

Messieurs Finch and Webber have rightly commented on the cost of flying out of this burgh. A bit more competition would not go astray. We get ripped off royally.

Barry Finch Barry Finch 11:49 am 25 Aug 19

For me, the cost of flights from Canberra are one of, if not the major reason why passenger numbers are so low. If it was not for the government related full fare flights, I suspect the airport would be no better off than so many small volumne regional airports across our country. Recently it was cheaper to fly to New Zealand from Perth than it was from Canberra. How can this be?

    Tom Minchin Tom Minchin 3:44 pm 25 Aug 19

    Barry Finch yeah still cheaper to bus/hire a car to Sydney than fly out of Canberra international...

    Barry Finch Barry Finch 5:24 pm 25 Aug 19

    Tom Minchin . I know and it needs to change in my view.

    Patrick Keogh Patrick Keogh 7:54 pm 25 Aug 19

    Yep, we're departing Canberra on Qatar in a week. Far better to do your passport control and check in the luggage in Canberra than deal with Sydney International. The actual flight is competitive cost-wise and you don't need to pay to get to Sydney and then spend time in the long queues there.

    Peter Mackay Peter Mackay 7:57 am 26 Aug 19

    Too bloody right. Baggage and customs in Sydney is an absolute zoo. And then you have to take that bus over the tarmac. with Qatar, it's painless.

    Barry Finch Barry Finch 8:57 am 26 Aug 19

    Peter Mackay . I flew cattle class to the US the wrong way round with Qatar a couple of years ago. The seats on their plane were anything but painless. Maybe my butt is the wrong shape but I swore I would never fly with them again.

    Julie Macklin Julie Macklin 12:16 pm 26 Aug 19

    I am catching a bus soon to Sydney airport. $15. With that price, I didn't even consider taking the plane from Canberra.

    Barry Finch Barry Finch 12:35 pm 26 Aug 19

    Julie Macklin Hi Julie. $15 sounds like a great deal. Who is that with?

Tony Webber Tony Webber 11:00 am 25 Aug 19

How about a little focus on cheaper domestic flights in and out of the place?????

    Ian Parnell Ian Parnell 8:37 pm 25 Aug 19

    Tony Webber well said. Biggest rip off in Australia

    Patrick Keogh Patrick Keogh 1:10 pm 26 Aug 19

    Thing is, there are three components to this.

    The airlines have limited competition and so they charge what the market will bear. If there is a significant increase in the number of international flights to Canberra it will create demand for more domestic flights which in turn may increase competition, which in turn may drive down price.

    Second the airport. There is the ROI on the private equity plus profit which has to come from airport landing charges and the like. So more flights holds out the possibility this might reduce these charges.

    Third component is demand. It is up to you and I to use the bus to Sydney and to lobby for the VFT. Using these competitors to flying is the best way we can influence price!

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