Brisbane Airport new runway opens: First flight takes off

"And first a shout out to our super professional, super smart and super-good-looking flight crew." the flight attendant says. I smile under my facemask, but he is just warming up. "...Even though they won't be the ones looking after you today - they all called in sick."

The cabin erupts in laughs - the perfect salve to break the nervous tension that can't help but fill a plane cabin in July 2020.

And this is no ordinary flight. We are taking off to much fanfare on the first commercial flight plane to use Brisbane's new $1.3 billion parallel runway that is hoped will position the city as a new hub for international travel.  The July 12 flight, Virgin Australia's VA781 is off to Far North Queensland, a region reeling from closures and travel bans due to COVID-19. .

While an aerobatic display, a ribbon cutting, and a watery salute by fire trucks christened the runway, COVID-19 couldn't help but cast a shadow. Crowds of well-wishers were told to stay away; on the first flight, no meals were served on board; face masks, sanitiser and social distancing were evident everywhere, and the special cake baked or the occasion could not be shared and eaten.

But there also a real sense of celebration and relief that the much anticipated runway opening went ahead. And what's more the plane was full of not just media and special guests, but regular holidaymakers, providing a much needed confidence boost..

Brisbane Airport Corporation says the new runway, which took 15 years to plan and build, is the largest aviation construction project in Australia and should help Queensland take advantage of renewed business in a post-COVID world.

BAC chief executive Gert-Jan de Graaff said: "This is more than just a formality and a slab of very expensive asphalt. When I look at that 3.3 kilometre stretch of runway, I see hope.

"I see hope because I believe, absolutely, that travel is at the heart of modern society and the human need to explore means that ultimately nothing will keep us grounded forever.

"While current world challenges mean less demand right now, the timing of this opening is fortuitous. Had we been any later, the project may have been delayed significantly creating more burden on the economy and dampening our spirits further.

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"Instead Brisbane is an ideal position to take advantage of all opportunities on the road to recovery from COVID-19.

"Today we are making history. We are creating the future. And very soon, once again, we will be connecting the world.

"We are generating the jobs of tomorrow. We are reuniting people. We are creating new opportunities. We are fuelling the economy.

"And best of all, we are providing hope and inspiration. This runway is a beacon of hope for a very bright future. Our immediate future. The future of generations to come. "

While the airport is not currently receiving anywhere near its normal number of flights due to COVID-19, it will have now have capacity for about 110 aircraft movements per hour.

The airport's capacity is set to double from 23.4 million in the 2018-19 financial year to more than 50 million by 2040. 

The writer travelled as a guest of Virgin Australia.

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