It has been a while between drinks for international flights at Hobart “International” Airport (HBA). It has been 21 years since the last regularly scheduled international flight touched down there, an Air New Zealand service from Christchurch.
And over the years there has been talk of getting international services back to Hobart. Certainly the Hobart Airport, the Tasmanian State Government, and a lot of Hobart locals would like to see international services resume.
But so far it has come to nought.
But once again the sands are shifting and the possibility of international flights into Hobart rears its head.
There are a couple of reasons. Firstly, the runway was extended last year. It is now 2,727 metres long – long enough to handle aircraft as large as a 777 or A330.
Secondly, a majority stake in the airport is up for sale and some of the possible buyers circling have plans for the airport.
Hobart Airport is leased by Australia’s Federal Government to the Tasmanian Gateway Consortium under a 99 year lease. The Tasmanian Gateway Consortium is an investment vehicle that is 50.1% owned by Macquarie Bank and 49.9% owned by non for profit super fund, Tasplan. Macquarie’s stake is up for sale.
Among the bidders is VINCI, a French infrastructure outfit with considerable experience running airports around the world. It likes the potential of Hobart and Tasmania. As anyone who lives there or spends time there will tell you, Tasmania is one of the world’s great undiscovered tourist destinations.
Lack of direct air access is one of the factors that has held Tasmania back.
VINCI would be looking at establishing international flights into Hobart to capitalise on Tasmania’s potential.
Who that might be is anyone’s guess. There were attempts to lure Singapore Airlines south around the time it added Canberra to its network. And the Middle Eastern carriers and Chinese carriers never went to Hobart during their expansionary phases. But VINCI runs 46 big airports around the world and has a proven track record in growing traffic and adding value to their investments.
Serving purely domestic passengers, Hobart is Australia’s 9th busiest airport. It has 2,733,700 passenger movements in the year ending June 30, 2019, almost a 5% growth on the previous year. Hobart Airport expects that number to 4.5 million people in 11 years.
Currently the airport is spending $100 million expanding the departures lounges and facilities. Development slated through to 2030 includes expanding baggage processing facilities, retail outlets, and food and beverage outlets.
The international terminal survives from 1998 and the airport has maintained immigration and customs facilities – even if they are never used, meaning upgrading the airport to take international flights will not require a radical or necessarily expensive infrastructure overhaul.
Whether VINCI has the winning bid for Hobart Airport is yet to be determined. There are other potential buyers as well – primarily cashed up local super funds.
But getting in an operator with considerable airport experience, a keenness to expand and the ability to think big could see passengers getting their passports stamped at Hobart in the not too distant future.