26 September 2023

Skytrans to help fill the void after Rex announces departure from Bamaga

| Matt Nicholls
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Skytrans CEO Alan Milne says his airline will increase passenger services into Bamaga to help fill the void left by Rex.

RESIDENTS in the Northern Peninsula Area were left stunned on Friday when airliner Rex said it would be pulling out of the Cairns-Bamaga route.

All flights booked after October 31 have been cancelled by Rex, leaving Skytrans as the only airline servicing the NPA.

And with a shortage of pilots around the globe, plus challenges with the Bamaga runway, it was feared that NPA residents would be left stranded heading into the wet season.

However, Skytrans CEO Alan Milne said on Monday that more services would be added to the schedule to alleviate some of the pressure.

“It’s been a busy few days, for sure,” he said.

“From the end of October, we’ll increase to nine flights in and out of Bamaga per week and we hope to get that to 11 or 12 by April next year.

“That would allow us to fly two services per day from Monday to Friday and at least one weekend service.”

Rex announced it was pulling out of the Bamaga route, as well as several others, due to a pilot shortage.

Mr Milne said Skytrans was not immune from the challenges, but was in a better position to attract young pilots due to its broader range of aircraft.

“We have a pilot pathway program with CQU and the grads that typically come out of flying school have about 200-250 hours of flying time,” he said.

“To fly for any airline you need 700 hours, so we are putting them in as co-pilots on our Cessna caravans so they can build their hours.

“They can then be a pilot in command on the caravans and then work up to our Dash-8 100s.”

Mr Milne said Skytrans would fly bigger planes to Bamaga if the runway had greater capacity.

“There is work scheduled on the runway for 2025, I believe, but at the moment there is a weight capacity on the strip,” he said.

“That means instead of flying 50-seaters we are using 36-seat aircraft.”

Cheryl Sanders from Cape York Ice & Tackle said her business and many others relied on a reliable air service into Bamaga.

“Since Rex cancelled those flights we’ve lost three fishing packages,” she said.

“And reliability is another issue because if flights are cancelled or rescheduled, it makes it difficult to provide a great experience, which means people don’t come back.

“There is a growing amount of tourism in the NPA that relies on air travel.”

Ms Sanders said locals were missing medical appointments in Cairns due to a lack of flights.

“It’s not as easy as just getting in the car and driving,” she said.

“A lot of people don’t have a reliable vehicle to get to Cairns. We need more money to go into the roads for driving to be an option.”

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