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Air services struggle as lockdown hits

General Manager of Air Link Ron O’Brien. Photo TWH

The fight is on to maintain Bourke’s air services, with COVID lockdowns severely impacting patronage.

The airline has been providing flights from Dubbo to Bourke, Walgett, and Lightning Ridge before the spread of the Delta virus forced a state-wide lockdown.

Air Link General Manager, Ron O’Brien, said the past 18 months had been an enormous challenge for all airlines.

But Mr O’Brien said that Air Link was determined to continue serving the region and upholding its agreement to provide services for a minimum of four years, made with the Far Northwest Joint Organisation of Councils.

Last week’s snap lockdown following positive COVID cases in Walgett and Dubbo, then in Bourke, added another level of difficulty for the airline, but Mr O’Brien was not giving up.

“Once the lockdown is lifted, we will continue operating under our COVID protocols, applying our COVIDSafe policies, including masks, sanitising, cleaning and disinfecting,” Mr O’Brien said.

“People will still need to travel and do their work in the community, so we will continue to offer flights once the lockdown is lifted,” Mr O’Brien said.

After the COVID downturn in 2020, bookings were rising again and 2021 looked more promising for the Air Link services from Bourke to Dubbo.

But the second wave of COVID cases, the lockdown, and the ongoing fear and uncertainty has impacted bookings.

Mr O’Brien, said that Air Link relied heavily on flights out of Sydney to connections in Dubbo.

“When things return to normal, we intend to operate into Bourke, Walgett and Lightning Ridge, with the support of the JO and the local councils supporting our services,” Mr O’Brien said.

“We remain as determined as ever to make a go of it, and we have maintained the integrity of our timetable, with return flights from Bourke to Dubbo three times a week to allow choice for those who want to fly.

“We have a contract with NSW Health to transport patients with our Air Med business and we apply the same standards to the Air Link passenger service.

“Our inflight environment is as safe as possible, to make it comfortable for people who want to fly.

“The biggest issue is the lockdowns. If people can’t to go to work, they don’t need to fly to meetings or to provide services, so that is the challenge - getting people back to work,” he said.

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