The operators of Australia’s first privately-built major public airport say passenger airlines will be flying in and out of Toowoomba as soon as construction is finished in October.
And the Brisbane West Wellcamp Airport, under construction about 17 kilometres west of Toowoomba, could also operate as a landing strip for diverted international flights, according to project chairman John Wagner.
That would potentially see Boeing 747s and Airbus A380s landing at the Darling Downs airport.
“Typically, when Brisbane goes out so does the Sunshine Coast and the Gold Coast – the Gold Coast is very marginal with weather, they’ve got a short runway so they can’t take a jumbo or an A380, but we can,” Mr Wagner told a Rural Press Club lunch in Brisbane on Tuesday.
“… If we’re going to take international flights in, we’re going to need to have people like AQIS, Customs and Immigration ready to move to be able to accommodate that, rather than sending everyone to Sydney and putting those people a good day out of their way.”
Discussions had been held with Toowoomba-based bus company Stonestreets about transporting passengers from Wellcamp to Brisbane.
“If we do take a diversion from Brisbane, we’ll be able to get them off, process them and get them to Brisbane in a reasonable timeframe,” Mr Wagner said.
Mr Wagner said his family was spending “north of $100 million” on the airport, which will be the first privately funded major public airport in Australia.
Mr Wagner told the lunch he expected up to 500,000 passengers to go through the airport in its first year of operation, which could grow to 1½ million passengers within five years.
“We’re in final discussions with two of the major airlines and one of the secondary airlines and I believe we’ll have at least two – maybe three – airlines running out of Wellcamp in October this year,” he said.
An announcement is understood to be imminent.
But Mr Wagner conceded the 2.87-kilometre runway – which would allow it to accommodate the larger passenger jets – was not necessarily required in the region.
“The reason we took on that decision making process and agreed to do it was that we had one opportunity from a town planning perspective, and particularly a federal government perspective, to get this through the system,” he said.
“Our view is that Toowoomba really only needed an 1800-metre- long runway, which is similar to the Sunshine Coast, however what (the longer runway) gave us was a piece of infrastructure that will see my children and my grandchildren out without having to go through any more approval processes.
“At the end of the day, it’s really only more gravel, more concrete and a few more lights and what it allows us to do is take a 747, fully loaded, direct to Asia.”
The Wagners have identified Sydney, Melbourne, Cairns, Canberra, Adelaide, Roma, Mackay and Emerald as potential regular destinations from Brisbane West Wellcamp.
Mr Wagner said the runway was on track to be completed next month, while the passenger terminal was expected to be finished in September.
Work on the airport started in April last year.
The Wagner family, with its background in cement, has owned the airport site since 1994, when it bought it for use as a quarry.
Along with the airport, the company is building a large business park.