Jetstar goes batty at enforced delays

FLIGHTS into Ballina-Byron Gateway Airport are at the mercy of a colony of flying foxes from East Ballina.

Jetstar has been forced to delay its 5.30pm flights from Melbourne by 55 minutes to avoid arriving in Ballina at dusk when the bats are on the move.

Passengers travelling from Melbourne last Tuesday were given 24 hours' notice their flight would be delayed by 55 minutes. Further notice was then given that the flight would not depart until 8.15pm.

Jetstar's general manager of corporate relations, Simon Westaway, said the flights were thrown into disarray by the start of daylight saving, which placed the 7.30pm arrival time of the flights from Melbourne right on dusk.

Mr Westaway said there was no way the airline could risk landing at Ballina when the bat colony was in flight.

“The major issue is the fear that bats could be ingested into the engine of the aircraft, which creates a significant risk of damage to the aircraft and to the safety of passengers,” he said.

“We are not prepared to operate with that level of risk.”

Ballina Shire Council, which owns and operates the airport, maintains a wildlife management plan specifically for the ground and airspace on and around the facility.

Group manager of civil services John Truman said the plan looked at the bird and bat risks.

“We have a specialist consultant who monitors populations and flight trends,” Mr Truman said.

“We liaise with airlines and that scientific work is used in scheduling considerations.”

Mr Westaway said the council ran the airport very well, but added that Jetstar would not like to see the colony get bigger.

“We are mere stakeholders, but we would hope its numbers would not grow if that meant further impacts on services,” he said.

The scheduling clash with the bat colony should be resolved from next week, when Jetstar begins its daily service from Melbourne.

The flights to Ballina will arrive at 9.30am and return to Melbourne at 10am.

There was no way the airline could risk landing at Ballina when the bat colonywas in flight

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