Sunday, January 25, 2015

Cairns cargo cult turns cannibal

Media and tourism industry response was almost universally positive to the announcement on Friday of increased airline capacity from China: Australian, Chinese governments make landmark air services agreement
A landmark air services agreement between the Australian and Chinese governments will open the way for new routes. The cap on seats from China's largest cities to the Australian gateway cities of Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth will triple to almost 67,000 seats each week by 2016. Routes to smaller cities, like Adelaide and Cairns, will have no limits.
Well almost universal with the Cairns Post reporting it this way: New capital city China flights blasted by Cairns business leaders
AVIATION and tourism leaders have blasted a federal government decision to add extra China flights to capital city airports at the expense of Cairns. 
How can additional capacity above current constraints at the major gateways be described as being at the expense of Cairns. There is nothing at all favouring those gateways over Cairns and no limitations if the economics of direct services to Cairns stack up. In fact provisions continue for the airlines to operate an additional 2,500 seats per week each way above the new major gateway cap if they stopover at Cairns en route.

There is no preferential access at all to the major gateways at the expense of Cairns. In fact what Kevin Brown (Cairns Airport) and Alex de Waal (TTNQ) are effectively demanding is that growth of the entire Australian tourism market be restrained to try and force airlines to fly to Cairns regardless of viability. The Cairns Cargo Cult has turned cannibal on the rest of the Australian tourism industry with a zero sum mentality.

This could never stack up as economically optimal for Australia. While not denying the benefit to TNQ and Cairns from direct international flights it was only last year that Brown was telling us:        
"We had direct China Eastern flights from Shanghai in place for most of 2013 and even without direct flights the Chinese visitor market shows strong growth trends with people willing to reach our destination via domestic services from other parts of Australia."
Growth in the entire Chinese market may increase the viability of direct flights longer term. Veteran aviation journalist Ben Sandilands doesn't seem so pessimistic at the Crikey Plane Talking blog:
It can expect to see a range of regionally focused carriers coming from parts of China outside of Beijing, Guangzhou and Shanghai, and given the capacity constraints at Sydney, some of them are likely to fly 787 or A330 sized jets to Canberra, or even Newcastle, if the access limitations of civil movements at a military airport can ever be fully addressed.
Australian can expect to see such second tier China carriers fly to Hobart, Cairns, and maybe in ten years time, even to Wellcamp (Brisbane’s far far far west airport). Gold Coast airport will be full before we know it, and Maroochydore could see regular flights by 250-350 passenger jets.
The influx will grow not just the hotel industry, including the construction side, but domestic air travel.
The response here from Cairns Airport and TTNQ only demonstrates everything that can go wrong with any Northern Australia policy as the rent-seekers subjugate the broader and national interest for their own self-interest. Alex de Waal continues to underwhelm at TTNQ.

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