Manager's high hopes for airport
BY THE end of 2015, the new manager of the Ballina-Byron Gateway Airport hopes up to 600,000 passengers a year will be hitting the tarmac.
That’s double the number of passengers currently processed there each year.
It seems ambitious, but Neil Weatherson has done it before.
He was the manager of the Sunshine Coast airport for 13 years, and then worked at the Gold Coast and for Queensland airports.
In the time he worked at the Sunshine Coast, passenger numbers increased from 150,000 to more than 600,000.
“We turned that airport around,” Mr Weatherson said.
“I am very confident and optimistic that we can still do something like that here in Ballina.”
But there will be lots of challenges.
Jetstar cancelled its Ballina to Melbourne route in August last year, and the airport has faced growing competition from Coolangatta.
“I know there have been some hard times, including the loss of the Melbourne service,” Mr Weatherson said.
“But we are working very hard to get that back.
“I think the opportunity for Ballina lies in the Melbourne service.
“That’s our growth area, so it’s something that we are really going to focus on. I know it won’t be easy.
“We also want to have flights to other destinations.
“We want increased retail, additional jet parking bays and the development of general aviation.”
However, Mr Weatherson also has some short-term goals, starting with the refurbishment of the arrival and departure lounges.
He hopes to start that work within the next three to four months.
And instead of negotiating with airlines about services, he will be doing passenger surveys to ‘prove that there is a market, that there is a need’.
“There is no overnight fix,” he said.
“But you can’t keep doing what you have always done and expect to get a different result.
“We have to try something new.”