In the last couple of years, Regional Express has gone from being a somewhat obscure airline connecting small cities in regional Australia to a player on the big routes. But there are still plenty of Aussie airlines flying under the metaphorical radar, filling the gaps Qantas, Jetstar and Virgin Australia just aren't interested in. We've tracked down ten of the more curious domestic flight options.
Believe it or not, Airnorth has been going since 1978. Based in Darwin, Airnorth is largely content to connect the Northern Territory capital with remote outposts such as Groote Eylandt and Gove. It also connects Darwin to tropical destinations in other states – Broome, Kununurra and Cairns for example. But there's also some dabbling in surprise routes – such as Darwin to Dili in Timor l'Este and Cairns to Toowoomba. See airnorth.com.au
Also based in Darwin, Fly Tiwi was set up to connect the Tiwi Islands to the Northern Territory capital. It still does, but has now expanded to service other remote Top End destinations such as Croker Island, South Goulburn Island and Ramingining in Arnhem Land. Somewhat surprisingly, Fly Tiwi has its own mini terminal at Darwin Airport. See flytiwi.com.au
Formerly going under possibly the worst name ever given to an airline – Fly Corporate – this small Aussie airline wisely rebranded as Link Airways last year. There's not an awful lot of logic to the route map – most Link Airways routes have an opportunistic market-plugging feel about them. So they'll take you from Brisbane to Armidale or Tamworth, from Melbourne to Dubbo, from Sydney to Narrabri and Canberra to Hobart. See linkairways.com
Not to be confused with the slightly bigger Link Airways, Air Link is primarily a charter operation. But it does operate three scheduled routes in seven-seater Piper Chieftain planes. Based in Dubbo, New South Wales, Air Link's scheduled flights head to Bourke, Walgett and Lightning Ridge. Qantas will not be sweating about the competition just yet.
Based in Newcastle, FlyPelican flits around New South Wales, largely aimed at people who don't want to change planes in Sydney. So if you want to go from Newcastle to the Sunshine Coast, Dubbo to Ballina or Port Macquarie to Canberra in one hop, this is your chance. Watch out for the baggage allowances, though – it may be 20kg, but that's inclusive of hand luggage too. See flypelican.com.au
Focusing very much on the fly-in, fly-out charter market, Alliance also has a frankly perplexing array of scheduled routes. The airline is nominally based in Brisbane, with routes to the likes of Cloncurry, Emerald and Moranbah. But there are also some strange ones elsewhere. These include Perth to Port Hedland, the Sunshine Coast to Canberra and Cairns to Groote Eylandt. See allianceairlines.com.au
King Island Airlines
King Island Photo: Dee Kramer
Well, no-one's going to accuse King Island Airlines of overstretching itself. This tiny, tiny airline flies just one route – from Moorabin Airport in Melbourne to Tasmania's King Island. Absurdly, it doesn't even have a monopoly on Melbourne to King Island flights – Sharp Airlines and Regional Express also fly from other Melbourne airports. See kingislandair.com.au
One of those competitors is based at Melbourne's Essendon Airport and Launceston, and mainly focuses on Tasmanian routes. Sharp Airlines' main niche is connecting Flinders and King Islands to the rest of the world. Well, if by the rest of the world you mean Melbourne, Launceston, Hobart and Burnie. But in time-honoured tradition, there's one really random route, too – Essendon to Griffith in New South Wales. See sharpairlines.com
Charters and private flights are the bread and butter for Hinterland Aviation, but this obscure airline does operate a handful of scheduled routes in northern Queensland. The roster consists of flights from Townsville to Palm Island, and Cairns to Cooktown and Coen on the Cape York Peninsula. See hinterlandaviation.com.au
Also serving Cape York is Skytrans, which flies out of Cairns to buzzing hotspots such as Kowanyama, Pormpuraaw and Lockhart River. But Skytrans has a second base on Horn Island, from where it heads out to the other Torres Strait Islands. It very much operates on the multi-hop model, with one route doing a loop back to Horne Island via Murray Island, Darnley Island and Yorke Island. See skytrans.com.au