FLYING HIGH: Ballina now the second-busiest airport in NSW
BALLINA airport has started to see an improvement in the number of passengers flying in and out after numbers went down to a staggering 15 people a week.
Recently, it has become the second-busiest airport in NSW, after Sydney.
Ballina Byron Gateway Airport general manager, Julie Stewart, confirmed the data is starting to look a bit more positive.
"March was the last month we saw close to normal passenger numbers - the airport saw around 7500 passengers in and out of the airport each week," she said.
Ms Stewart explained the March numbers were already down compared to March last year as the airlines began to reduce the number of services this year from March 18.
"During April, these numbers dropped to as low as 15 a week," she said.
"Currently we are seeing around 600 passengers a week."
This means that Ballina airport, owned by Ballina Shire Council, currently has more airlines to more destinations on more days of the week than the Gold Coast airport.
"Ballina has essentially moved up the ladder from NSW's third busiest RPT (commercial flights) airport to the State's second, behind Sydney's Kingsford Smith," she said.
"This period has been positive in showing that the airport not only supports tourism but that it's essential for business and medical or compassionate travel as well."
Ms Stewart said there had been a significant number of passengers travelling for work (FIFO, emergency services, public support services), medical reasons, family support and compassionate reasons, and a number who have been coming out of quarantine on return from cruises and overseas travel.
"There even has been some international travellers trying to connect with international repatriation flights," she said.
"There's been significant number of travellers coming from and going to the Gold Coast/Tweed area and even some from Brisbane.
"Flight frequency, travel dates/times and even destination/origin (Newcastle/Gold Coast) have attracted travellers to Ballina.
"Having a (one-way) closed border means many travellers see the benefits of the proximity of NSW's northern-most airport, Ballina Byron Gateway Airport, for access to and from the state's capital and beyond."
So, how much activity is there currently at the Ballina airport?
According to the general manager, the airport has been operating under reduced numbers of commercial airline services.
"From April 1, the airport had two weekly services to Newcastle," she said.
"This prompted the closure of the airport terminal (only) in an effort to reduce terminal operating expenses."
With commercial services back thanks to government subsidies, three airlines now operate from Ballina on a twice-weekly service to and from Sydney and Newcastle.
"This is expected to continue until June 30. We are currently working with the airlines on a recovery period schedule which will commence from July 1," Ms Stewart said.