Gunnedah mayor Jamie Chaffey is confident the community will soon host a new airline despite the departure of a new Queensland route in the region before it had barely begun.

Low-cost carrier Bonza recently terminated its new Tamworth-Sunshine Coast service, just months after it started operating, citing low passenger numbers.

It was one of two new routes introduced at Tamworth by the airline which still operates a twice-weekly, Tamworth-Melbourne service.

The departure of one route, however, coincided with the addition of another in the north west – a new direct air connection between Narrabri to Newcastle.

The twice-weekly FlyPelican service was aimed at catering for FIFO workers, the agricultural sector, and Hunter New England health professionals.

Cr Chaffey said the new route was great news for our northern neighbour as Gunnedah council continues its negotiations with airline partners in the hope of also hosting an airline from its soon-to-be-refurbished airport.

“Gunnedah is in consultation with a few organisations and we’re quite confident where we sit, as (airport) construction is on target and on time,” Cr Chaffey said.

“I can’t say more than that at the moment but hopefully there are some positive announcements before Christmas.”

Cr Chaffey said in December there was “genuine interest” for an operator to be based at Gunnedah airport which is undergoing an $8.3 million upgrade.

The construction works include strengthening of the tarmac, lighting, drainage and apron works with a view to host bigger, heavier aircraft.

“I feel confident before this work is completed, so long as we’re accredited, we’ll have a commercial agreement,” Cr Chaffey said at the time.

Some in the community, however, considered the airport upgrade a pipedream and thought council’s $4.5 million contribution to the project would be better spent of other local infrastructure in the shire.

“The shire has been through this experience many times before during the 1970s, 80s and 90s with the result consistently being that passengers were better serviced by the Tamworth facilities for common sense reasons,” one resident said.

“Gunnedah Shire Council needs to allocate money for the general ‘well’ of the ratepayers (road users) not for the privilege of the selected high flying ‘few’.”

But a survey undertaken by council yielded positive results for Gunnedah to host an airline in the future.

Of the 820 respondents surveyed, 72 per cent said they would ‘definitely’ or ‘probably’ use Gunnedah airport if flights were available in the future. People who said they would use the airport said they were likely to fly quarterly. According to the survey results, the biggest interest was in flights to and from Sydney, followed by Brisbane, Melbourne and regional NSW. But gaining access to land at heavily congested airports like Sydney may also prove difficult.

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