Darwin new port for Cairns airline
CAIRNS-based Hinterland Aviation is targeting Darwin as its next port of call.
The regional airline sees a multi-billion LNG project as a huge opportunity for the business originally bought to service the luxurious Bloomfield Lodge tourism haven 21 years ago.
Managing director Mark Dorward said Darwin was the new frontier for the $15 million business and the airline had already flown some mining executives on private charters to the capital of the Northern Territory.
"We are paying attention to the resources industry, particularly Papua New Guinea and Darwin," he said.
"The Northern Territory is the new frontier. There are a lot of ties between Cairns and Darwin with the gas project.
"There are many benefits for Cairns and Cairns businesses."
Mr Dorward said there were labour and accommodation shortages in Darwin and Cairns was well placed to capitalise on these areas.
He said a reduction in scheduled services to Darwin had resulted in "numerous inquiries" by clients looking for "convenient, reliable and cost-effective" flights to the city from Cairns.
Mr Dorward said Hinterland Aviation was considering establishing a base in Darwin, the first for the company outside of its headquarters in Cairns.
"We are not locked into Cairns, there are many opportunities in the Northern Territory," he said. "It's not a matter of if, but when."
The company was able to fly anywhere in Australia and globally under its class A airline standard.
Hinterland was bought in 1991 by Trailblazers UK travel company boss Mike Gooley after he bought the remote and luxurious Bloomfield Lodge.
Then it had two aircraft and about six employees.
Mr Dorward said the airline was set up to be "competitive".
There were now 25 staff at the lodge and 55 in Cairns, including pilots, engineers, cleaners and operational staff.
"Despite tough economic times Hinterland’s revenues grew by 14 per cent last financial year," he said.
Mr Dorward said trading was "stable" but they continued to look for new business.
"We are always looking to expand in the right areas and the resources sector is obvious," he said.
The airline flew a regular charter to PNG each week, daily to Bloomfield, twice a day to Lizard Island, three times a week to Coen and 13 times a week to Cooktown.
Mr Dorward said the company was able to provide almost instant answers to people seeking to charter aircraft.
"We can give people information about charters straight away, what is available and what we are able to provide," he said.
"Clients are looking for short time frames and that's part of our success."
Mr Dorward said the government and resource sectors wanted quick responses.
He said the company was in an excellent financial position, owned all its assets and was able to access capital to buy a new aircraft without any delay.
"If we need an extra aircraft we're prepared to buy," Mr Dorward said.
The company also did all its engineering and servicing in-house and nothing was contracted out, he said.
As well as other tourism work, Hinterland Aviation provided aircraft for private medical evacuations, mainly in Papua New Guinea.
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Opportunity: Hinterland Aviation managing director Mark Dorward is expanding the Cairns airline's horizons to Darwin. Picture: TOM LEE