Hinterland Aviation managing director Mark Dorward says he expects air links to communities affected by the voluntary shutdown of Skytrans to be restored by other airlines once the dust settles.
Skytrans chief executive Simon Wild’s decision to stop flying on Friday January 2 and wind up the company after 25 years of operations has left some remote towns without essential air services at a time when the arrival of the wet season leaves roads to Cape York impossible to drive through.
As an interim measure, the Queensland government has chartered aircraft from both Hinterland and fellow North Queensland-based operator West Wing Aviation to assist passengers stranded by the sudden shut down.
Dorward says Hinterland, Regional Express (Rex) and West Wing are all likely to have an opportunity to pick up the ex-Skytrans routes.
“Between the three operators, all the ex-Skytrans services will be taken up,” Dorward said from Cairns on Wednesday.
“I have looked at the passenger route data and I think there is something in each route out there for everyone.
“What we are doing is having a look at that and seeing what we are able to do to restore a link going forward.”
Hinterland’s fleet of 11 aircraft consists of four-seat Cessna 310s up to 12-seat Cessna 208 Caravans.
West Wing also has a similar spread of aircraft, but also flies the larger Beechcraft 1900D with 19 seats.
Meanwhile, Rex operates the 34-seat Saab 340.
Dorward said it was a “no brainer” some of the longer routes to towns such as Bamagah would be taken up by Rex, given the healthy passenger numbers.
Meanwhile, some of the closer destinations – Aurukun, Coen and Lockhart River – would be suited to operators with smaller capacity aircraft.
“The closer routes tend to suit our operations and it is quite well matched because the longer routes have the bigger numbers and the shorter routes have the smaller numbers,” Dorward said.
“At some point we will speak to the communities and the government about our plans and that will happen pretty quickly. I’d say that will happen in the next week.”
A commercial advisor to West Wing Aviation, Mike Thinee, said the airline was keen to serve some of the ex-Skytrans routes.
“The routes are viable, they have always been,” Thinee said.
“Certainly they are good routes.”
Rex, which recently expanded its Queensland operations with the commencement of three newly-won government subsidised route contracts, said on January 2 it stood ready and willing to assist stranded passengers in Queensland’s Cape York region and was putting together an emergency action plan.
The airline hoped to receive approval from the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) within six weeks to fly to some of the communities affected by Skytrans’ decision to shut down.
“We will also mobilise additional aircraft and crew to carry out a fuller service within 3-4 months after a feasibility analysis,” Rex chief operating officer Neville Howell said in a statement.
Howell said the regional airline group would also seek permission from CASA to run “emergency charter substitution services so that the communities will not be completely cut off for weeks”.
Skytrans appointed Bentleys Chartered Accountants as voluntary administrators to manage the wind down of the Queensland-based regional carrier on Monday.
Bentleys was likely to issue a formal notice to creditors “later this week”, according to the Skytrans website, while the first meeting of creditors was expected to be held on January 15.
Wild said the downturn of resources-related flying work and the slumping Australian dollar, along with the loss of its three government contracts, were among the key factors in his decision to close down Skytrans just a day after its 25-year anniversary.
The Skytrans boss said at the time all staff entitlements including redundancy pay and superannuation were up to date.
“To continue flying would have potentially risked the financial entitlement pool of our people,” Wild said in a statement on January 2.
“To us that one single thing was not negotiable. We were determined that should the business not survive, that our employees were paid their entitlements.”
Dorward noted the difficult conditions being faced by all airline operators currently, given the drop off in the mining sector, weak discretionary spending and government work in Queensland being “probably half of what it was”.
This was despite the helpful reduction in the price of fuel, as well as the resumption of a government subsidy for enroute navigation charges for regional routes.