Milestone for NT ‘milk run’

GETTING WINGS: Airnorth says it pleased with how the new central "milk run" is performing three months into the two-year trial, with figures showing that about 65 per cent of seats booked have been utilised by the public.

GETTING WINGS: Airnorth says it pleased with how the new central "milk run" is performing three months into the two-year trial, with figures showing that about 65 per cent of seats booked have been utilised by the public.

FIGURES show the Northern Territory government is living up to its promise to support Airnorth’s “milk run” by booking 500 seats on flights during the first two months of the two-year trial.

The tri-weekly service, which links Darwin, Katherine, Tennant Creek and Alice Springs, made its maiden flight on October 19, 2015, with Transport Minister Peter Chandler praising the near-full Embraer E120 Brasilia that landed in Katherine as a “pretty bloody good” result.

Three months on, both the government – which is subsidising the trial to the tune of about $700,000 per year – and Airnorth have echoed that initial sentiment, and say they are thrilled 1415 seats were sold for flights between October 19 and December 31, 2015.

When Airnorth was announced as the successful proponent last year, Mr Chandler vowed to do what he could ensure the viability of the service by getting “the government to support it by making sure their own public servants use it wherever possible”.

In total, 500 of the 1415 passengers were government staff, but a breakdown of that into ministers, ministerial staff and public servants was not available.

On the Darwin-Katherine-Darwin sector, 202 of the 338 passengers worked for the government, with Top End Health Services, Power and Water Corporation, the Department of Health, the Department of the Chief Minister and the Department of Children and Families booking the majority of the seats.

Mr Chandler told the Katherine Times this week that he believed the fact that about 65 per cent of seats had been booked by non-government travellers proved there was community support for the service.

However, he admitted that most of his parliamentary colleagues continued to drive to Katherine, rather than using the government’s “preferred travel option”.

“There seems to be a lot of ministers still driving down,” he said.

“The fact that two-thirds of the seats booked are by the public is also a very good sign that the public is also utilising the service well.”

Despite passenger numbers being down during the festive season, Airnorth chief executive officer Daniel Bowden said he was “comfortable with the uptake during the trial period” to date, adding that the airline expected to see a spike in bookings as the dry season approached. 

While Mr Bowden would not respond to the question of how long it would take for Airnorth to determine whether the service was commercially viable without government assistance, he said ongoing community support was critical to its longevity.

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