FOR the first time in 15 years, a Qantas plane has touched down at the Ballina Byron Gateway Airport.

The new Sydney-Ballina route is part of the gradual ramping up of Qantas and Jetstar domestic flights, which could get up to 40 per cent of pre-coronavirus capacity levels this month.

It was originally scheduled to start earlier this year but was delayed due to travel restrictions.

As it happens in the Northern Rivers, there was a personal connection for one of the members of the crew that landed the Q400 just after 12.20pm today.

The crew was formed by Captain Sean Kennedy, first officer Adam Mather, plus flight attendants Fiona Crockett and Christopher White.

Mr White said to be a regular visitor to the area as his sister is the assistant principal at a school in Ballina.

The Qantas flight crew led by captain Sean Kennedy, first officer Adam Mather, plus flight attendants Fiona Crockett and Christopher White, after landing the first Qantas Link flight from Sydney to Ballina in 15 years on July 1, 2020.
The Qantas flight crew led by captain Sean Kennedy, first officer Adam Mather, plus flight attendants Fiona Crockett and Christopher White, after landing the first Qantas Link flight from Sydney to Ballina in 15 years on July 1, 2020.

The flight carried 75 passengers, who received red balloons and gift bags at the arrival in Ballina.

Ballina Byron Gateway Airport general manager Julie Stewart said Ballina remains the second busiest airport in NSW after Sydney.

This is about to increase as Pelican Air will start direct Canberra-Ballina service from this Friday.

“(From next week) We are looking at between 5000 and 6000 passengers a week,” she said.

“During the decline, we are down to 15 passengers a week.

“This is still down from regular numbers, which were 50,000 a month.”

Ms Stewart said each of the airlines currently flying into Ballina (Rex, Air Pelican, Qantas Link and Jetstar) are adding extra services almost daily.

“Ballina is obviously showing a strong demand for tourism and business travel,” she said.

Qantas Link CEO John Gissing said the recent spike in bookings demonstrates there is significant pent up demand for Australians to take a holiday after months of lockdown.

“As the national carrier we have an important role to play in driving tourism and reviving the industry that has been devastated by COVID-19,” Mr Gissing said.

“These additional flights are coming at the right time for families who’ve spent much of the recent months confined to their homes and are looking forward to getting out and exploring their own state.

“Byron Bay continues to be an incredibly popular destination for holiday-makers of all types, and was one of the most in demand destinations for Qantas and Jetstar over the past month.”

Qantas Link will operate daily return flights between Sydney and Ballina with its Q400 aircraft.

The flights are in addition to Jetstar’s flights from Melbourne and Sydney.