Qantas touches down in Merimbula, announces Sydney and Melbourne flights

The first Qantas flight into Merimbula arrives on Friday, December 18, with Qantas CFO Vanessa Hudson on board (far right) and welcomed by Mayor Russell Fitzpatrick and Member for Eden-Monaro Kristy McBain. Photo: Ben Smyth
The first Qantas flight into Merimbula arrives on Friday, December 18, with Qantas CFO Vanessa Hudson on board (far right) and welcomed by Mayor Russell Fitzpatrick and Member for Eden-Monaro Kristy McBain. Photo: Ben Smyth

The long-held dream of having the Bega Valley a two-airline region became a reality on Friday as QantasLink arrived on its first flight from Sydney.

The 38 passengers on board were unwitting stars on the day as they disembarked on to Merimbula Airport's tarmac to a waiting throng of media and special guests.

Among the passengers was Qantas Group chief financial officer Vanessa Hudson who said the carrier was very excited about "bringing the red tail to Merimbula and the Sapphire Coast".

Merimbula was one of seven regional locations across NSW, Victoria and South Australia to have a new QantasLink service announced this week.

Ms Hudson said she was pleased to announce QantasLink would be flying the Sydney to Merimbula route until October 2021, with the future beyond that part of the company's continuous review based on demand.

She made an additional announcement, welcomed by those in attendance, that flights between Merimbula and Melbourne would also begin shortly as part of Qantas's schedule.

"Today is a fantastic milestone.

"With 11 million Australians holidaying at home now there's a real opportunity to grow this market. And it's in everyone's interest to help do that.

"The South Coast is such a gem ,with your beaches, the hinterland and the lovely food - everyone is going to love holidaying here," she said.

"But it's really important to call out to the local community to support this service as well.

"Any route decision is based on demand and we want to make sure this works."

Ms Hudson's comments came as Regional Express Airlines (Rex) released a statement calling for the federal government to cease all support funding for Qantas as it "embarks on an opportunistic strategy of flooding the regional airline market...to eliminate weaker regional competitors"."

Ms Hudson said that, rather than Rex's claim the international carrier was using its federal government subsidies to make up losses it could expect on these routes, the COVID stimulus money was mainly going to support its employees.

Bega Valley Shire Mayor Russell Fitzpatrick thanked Qantas Airways for bringing increased passenger services to Merimbula Airport.

"This has long been our goal, to prepare airport infrastructure for increased passenger and freight services," Cr Fitzpatrick said.

"We welcome QantasLink as one of two passenger airlines servicing the needs of business and recreational customers wanting to travel to and from Sydney.

"Increasing passenger services will deliver greater investment to the shire's business community, which is well timed as it's been a particularly difficult year for local small business owners.

"Having two operators means doubling the exposure we receive through the wide-reaching marketing of two established airlines, as well as doubling options for people wanting to travel to and from Sydney.

"This will very much put what is already a perfect destination firmly on the map of places to visit now and into the future," Cr Fitzpatrick said.

Merimbula Tourism manager Chris Nicolls also spoke to the crowd, welcoming Qantas and all its arrival entails for the Sapphire Coast.

He said the 50-seat turboprop planes are adding 400 seats a week into the route every week.

He even recalled his first flight on a Boeing 707 Qantas flight as an 11-year-old - and still has the postcard signed by the pilot to prove it!

"Merimbula is the 'Heart of the Sapphire Coast' and the air gateway to the Bega Valley Shire - so, this is a significant opportunity for our visitor economy, with the very real prospect of tourists as well as business travellers coming to the Sapphire Coast now via air instead of by land," Mr Nicholls said.

"The good news is that at one hour and five minutes it's not only way faster to get here, but better for the environment - a win-win for Merimbula and the planet!

"And now we hear Qantas is adding Merimbula-Melbourne flights from the first of February. The news just keeps getting better. At last, some good news in 2020!

"We are ready for it - we are now on the Qantas map."

Sapphire Coast Destination Marketing managing director Anthony Osborne said the value of Qantas investing locally will be felt across the shire.

"As a destination we are super excited to welcome one of Australia's most iconic tourism brands into our region.

"Their confidence in investing in the Sapphire Coast as a destination will lift our visibility enormously, particularly in the high-value Sydney market, and inspire our local industry and businesses to expand their offerings to cater to a new market.

"We look forward to being involved in the myriad high-value Qantas marketing channels such as Frequent Flyer, hotels and holiday content."

Former Merimbula Airport manager Ian Baker and wife Cathy disembark the inaugural Qantas flight. Photo: Ben Smyth

Former Merimbula Airport manager Ian Baker and wife Cathy disembark the inaugural Qantas flight. Photo: Ben Smyth

Arrivals lounge

Waiting in the new Merimbula Airport terminal was Allan "Armchair Al" Mallard, whose daughter was arriving on the inaugural Qantas flight.

"She's from Potts Point, Australia's most expensive suburb - but I reckon she won't want to go home," he joked.

Also on the inaugural flight was Ian Baker, manager of the airport from 2002-18.

Cr Fitzpatrick gave him almost a hero's welcome, saying Merimbula wouldn't have an airport if it weren't for Mr Baker's efforts over the years - at one point even hiring planes himself to get people in and out of the Bega Valley when the main carrier went bust.

Mr Baker said his "heart was on fire" seeing the long-held dreams come to fruition.

"This is truly fabulous," he said.

"I look forward with enthusiasm to having Merimbula as a destination on a network, rather than a branch on a network."

This story Qantas touches down in Merimbula, announces Sydney and Melbourne flights first appeared on Bega District News.