Wednesday, August 1, 2012

CQ Plane Spotting Historic Spot: Proserpine / Whitsunday Coast Airport

The Whitsunday Coast Airport or Proserpine/Whitsunday Coast Airport (IATA: PPP, ICAO: YBPN) is located approximately 10km South of Proserpine. The airport is the main gateway for travellers to and from the Whitsundays, and currently only has 2-3 daily flights from and to Brisbane.

Plans to build an airfield in Proserpine commenced in 1936, however construction was delayed due to a lack of funding. Construction of the airport finally began in 1946.

The first passenger service to Proserpine was on 3 November 1951. It was a flight from Brisbane in a Douglas DC-3. Flights in Proserpine continued through the 1960's and 1970's with Trans Australia Airlines (TAA) and Ansett-ANA (Ansett Airlines of Australia and later Ansett Australia) operating routes that spanned the entire Queensland Coast, and also connected to the neighbouring Whitsunday Islands.

As shown below, TAA operated aircraft such as Fokker F-27 friendship aircraft on the coastal services, while connecting with smaller De-Havilland DHC-6 Twin Otter aircraft to operate flight to the Whitsunday Islands.

Also in the 1970's and 1980's, Ansett Airlines of Australia operated a pair Sikorsky S-61N helicopters flying from Proserpine Airport to the Whitsunday Islands. S-61N VH-BRI is pictured below in 1975 on the Hayman Island helipad after arriving from Proserpine Airport.

VH-BRI is also shown below at Proserpine Airport in 1981. Flying to was a lot quicker than the coach/ferry boat transfer!

As the 1980's continued, so did the daily jet services into Proserpine Airport - as shown below - TAA Douglas DC-9 VH-TJR and Ansett Australia Boeing B727-200 VH-RMW - parked on the Proserpine Airport apron in the mid-1980's.

Jet services were mostly from Brisbane, however services were starting from Sydney and Melbourne, and in the 1990's the number of scheduled and seasonal services to Proserpine continued to grow.

With the demise of TAA, Australian Airlines took over some jet services to Proserpine, with Boeing B737-300 VH-TAU shown below on the Proserpine Airport apron in 1990.

Australian Airlines (Airlink) - which was a subsidiary of Australian Airlines operated by National Jet Systems - operated a fleet of British Aerospace BAe 146 aircraft into several regional Queensland cities including Proserpine on behalf of Australian Airlines. BAe 146-100 VH-NJR, in Australian Airlines livery, is shown below parked at Proserpine Airport in August 1992.

Eventually, with the demise of Australian Airlines, these services were taken over Qantas (Airlink), and soon the familiar livery of Qantas was present at Proserpine Airport on their BAe 146 aircraft.

However, during the 1990's and early 2000's, Ansett Australia became the dominant operator into Proserpine Airport with direct services to Proserpine from Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne, as well as seasonal flights from the Gold Coast and Adelaide. I recall most flights from Brisbane were operated by Ansett's own BAe 146-300 aircraft, which were acquired after the demise of East-West Airlines.

After retiring the BAe 146 aircraft, Ansett services were eventually operated by Kendell Airlines, who utilised a fleet of Canadair CL-600-2B19 (CRJ-200ER) Regional Jets, on several regional Australia routes on behalf of Ansett.

In September 2001, Proserpine Airport suffered heavily from the collapse of Ansett Australia. Services to Proserpine Airport were dramatically cut, with only Qantas and QantasLink flying into Proserpine from Brisbane.

As the 2000's went on, and as the airline grew, Virgin Blue (now Virgin Australia) began operations into Proserpine Airport from Brisbane.

Soon after, QantasLink services were replaced by Jetstar Airways, which was actually a subsidiary of Qantas, created in response to the threat posed by Virgin Blue.

Services into Proserpine Airport then began to increase again, with, at one stage, direct flights were arriving from Sydney and Melbourne, as well as Brisbane. However, Virgin Blue and Jetstar began to cut their weekly direct flights from interstate in response to rising fuel costs during the global financial crisis, despite these routes regularly running at full capacity and usually being booked out days in advance.

Eventually, a daily services from Brisbane were operated by both Virgin Blue (now Virgin Australia) and Jetstar Airways. In 2012, Virgin Australia added an early morning service from Brisbane, meaning the Proserpine/Whitsunday Coast Airport is now serviced by 2-3 daily Regular Passenger Transport (RPT) flights from Brisbane.

Virgin Australia currently operate two flights each weekday and one on weekends, while Jetstar operates flights to Proserpine on an almost-daily basis. Rumours abound that Virgin Australia will re-introduce directs from Sydney to Proserpine, however, at this stage, nothing official has been announced.

Virgin's early morning weekday flights are operated by Alliance Airlines Fokker F-100 aircraft - although these aircraft wear no livery - as VH-XWM is shown below operating a Virgin Australia flight in Rockhampton.

The Proserpine/Whitsunday Coast Airport passenger terminal has recently undergone an extensive upgrade. Earthworks commenced in mid-October 2010 and demolition works in November 2010. The upgraded terminal was officially opened on 20 December 2011.

The layout and size of the Proserpine terminal was significantly changed with a much bigger - and combined - checkin desk area, a much bigger passenger waiting area - including a new and modernized kiosk, and lastly, and new and improved arrivals hall and baggage collection facilities - complete with baggage collection carousel - something required at a modern airport - all added. The addition of baggage carousel also was much safer and nicer than waiting for the baggage trolley to come from the airside apron area! 

A new and expanded paid parking area and set down and pick up bays were also added.

The airport apron and aircraft parking area remains albeit a little bigger. There are three main aircraft parking gates, and a smaller area of corporate and other light aircraft visitors. Beyond that, there are aircraft storage and maintenance hangars and facilities, plus plenty of light aircraft parking on grass.

There is another older looking runway that is no longer in operation.

In mid-2012, a marathon was held to try and elevate the airports profile with the ultimate goal of securing either a regular direct service to either Melbourne or Sydney.

Airport management are also endeavouring to encourage more fly-in fly-out (FIFO) charters for nearby Bowen Basin mines.

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