Busselton to Melbourne flights postponed in WA border opening delay due to Omicron fears

Taylar AmoniniBusselton Dunsborough Times
Busselton to Melbourne direct flights have been postponed again.
Camera IconBusselton to Melbourne direct flights have been postponed again. Credit: METHODE

Direct flights from Melbourne to the South West have been pushed back yet again in the latest consequence of the State Government’s backtracking on reopening Western Australia.

On Thursday afternoon, WA Premier Mark McGowan revealed the State’s hard border would remain indefinitely as it would be “reckless and irresponsible” to reopen as planned because of the Omicron variant wreaking havoc.

A Jetstar spokesman confirmed to The Times the announcement meant the direct flight’s February 14 launch date was off the table.

“Due to the decision made by the WA Government to extend the period of border restrictions between WA and Victoria, we will be reviewing our Busselton to Melbourne starting date during the coming days,” he said.

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“Customers impacted as a result of this will be contacted directly by Jetstar and offered a range of options, including a free move of their travel dates, a credit or full refund.”

While no date has yet been pencilled in for the flights to take off, it’s understood Jetstar will deliver the 12-month trial date as planned.

Jetstar’s first commercial passenger flights connecting Busselton-Margaret River Airport and Melbourne were originally planned to take off in March 2020 before the global pandemic took hold.

Margaret River Busselton Tourism Association co-chief executive Sharna Kearney said the response from the local tourism industry had been mixed in the wake of the border decision.

“Tours, attractions and experiences, and those businesses that rely more heavily on interstate and international markets will obviously be very disappointed that the borders won’t be reopening as planned.,” she said.

“They would have spent the last week cancelling forward bookings. Others, such as hospitality and accommodation businesses, have just come off the back of trading through a busy peak season understaffed, and may appreciate the reprieve to prepare their business to implement the new public health measures being introduced.

“The entire industry is acutely aware that once COVID-19 takes off in this State, it will impact their ability to trade — whether it be staff absenteeism or visitors cancelling plans due to being unwell or needing to isolate.

“Despite adapting incredibly well to the constantly changing environment over the past two years, it certainly hasn’t been easy for industry.

“The success of the Melbourne to Busselton flights will depend largely on the return of travel confidence, so it makes sense for flights to commence when there is more certainty. No doubt, the flights will play an important role is assisting to rebuild our region’s pre-COVID tourism position.”

City of Busselton Mayor Grant Henley said while the announcement was disappointing, the City of Busselton would work to ensure the health directives and mask mandates were complied with so the flights can begin.

Busselton Mayor Grant Henley.
Camera IconBusselton Mayor Grant Henley. Credit: Supplied/Supplied

“It’s disappointing for everyone in the region,” he said.

“Many have been looking forward to that date whether it be to take holidays themselves or welcoming visitors into the region.

“These flights will be a foot in the door into getting direct flight routes into the South West so it’s disappointing we can’t start just yet.

“But obviously it’s extremely understandable given the border conditions and the health and safety of Australians.”

The State Government has spent $43.25 million towards the development of the Busselton Margaret River Airport and airline attraction, and planned to invest a further $3.265m to upgrade terminal infrastructure to allow Jetstar’s air service to start when the flights were announced more than two years ago.

The air route is expected to bring more than 60,000 visitors and contribute more than $40 million to the WA economy once it eventually takes off.

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