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Coffs Harbour Airport pushes to bring back pre-COVID capacity

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Coffs Harbour Airport is looking to boost airline connectivity and woo carriers back to the region.

The airport on Monday held its quarterly aviation forum, where it met with council, tourism operators and local businesses to look at ways to bring back traffic levels from before COVID. Reduced capacity and high airfares are currently hampering travel to the city.

Currently, the airport is served only by QantasLink, Rex, and Link Airways, having lost pre-pandemic services by Virgin and Tigerair. Bonza’s short-lived service from the Sunshine Coast was axed after just over three months as part of a network reshuffle in July.

Frank Mondello, general manager of Coffs Harbour Airport, told Australian Aviation that passenger numbers for FY23 were around 283,000, below the roughly 400,000 passengers before the pandemic.

“It’s a difficult industry to be in at the moment, and there still is some sort of post-COVID hangover, if you like. But we do see signs that that will improve, particularly early next year,” he said.

“We’re quite confident that improvement, that return to services and potentially other carriers, will come shortly – but we want to make sure, and this is what part of the aviation forum was about. We want to make sure that we don’t drop the ball and we are high on the list of priorities for airlines.”

Dubbed “Team Coffs Harbour”, the assembled stakeholders – numbering around 40 – put forward a number of ideas on revitalising the region’s tourism and aviation industries.

“We had a lot of discussion about letters of support, putting together a calendar of events – there are events happening at Coffs Harbour all year round, and we’re not sure that maybe they’re as visible as they could be,” said Mondello.

“We’re going to drive that visibility to the airlines and make sure that when they are assessing routes for additional services and so forth, we’re at the top of the list.”

Mondello added that the airport is optimistic it will see passenger numbers reach and surpass pre-COVID levels, as well as new services from Bonza.

“We’re having really meaningful discussions with all airlines, and we understand that sometimes they have to make difficult decisions,” he said.

“Certainly there’s capacity issues that meant some operators had to cut services – Rex recently withdrew a couple of services a day to Sydney, and Qantas has done the same with the Brisbane services here.

“We understand those difficult decisions are made. But we also want to be front of mind again, when the airlines are in a position to increase capacity.

“We’re optimistic that that you’ll see Bonza back at Coffs Harbour Airport in the not-too-distant future. Not exactly sure yet which routes, but there’s a number of them that we’ve talked to them about, and we’re very confident that we’ll see them back.”

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