Newcastle Williamtown-based FlyPelican isn’t an airline that gets a lot of attention. The airline goes about its business, connecting some ten regional centers in southeastern Australia and generally flies under the radar. But FlyPelican is a quiet airline industry success story.
FlyPelican born out of two airline collapses
The world is full of airlines like FlyPelican. They make a living flying routes the bigger airlines ignore. In doing so, they connect smaller centers to bigger centers, create employment opportunities, and add to the rich tapestry of the broader airline industry.
FlyPelican was born from the ashes of Aeropelican. This Newcastle Belmont Airport-based commuter airline operated a high-frequency DHC-6 Twin Otter service between that airport and Sydney until the early 2000s.
Unfortunately, Aeropelican was owned by Ansett Australia who collapsed in 2001 and took the little Newcastle airline down with them. Former Aeropelican employees formed FlyPelican in the aftermath. They shifted operations north to Williamtown airport, and in the intervening years, quietly built a regional airline from scratch.
FlyPelican carves out its own niche in a crowded market
Today, FlyPelican flies a fleet of 19 seat Jetstream 32 turboprop aircraft that dash up and down New South Wales and into southeastern Queensland. On an aircraft type and market basis, its competitors are Regional Express (Rex) and Link Airways. But FlyPelican enjoys sole operator status on all its routes – and not many airlines can boast that.
FlyPelican flies to Cobar, Taree, Mudgee, and Williamtown out of Sydney. The airlines flies to Cobar with the assistance of the New South Wales Government, providing an essential air link to the far-flung town. FlyPelican took over the Mudgee and Taree routes from Rex a few years ago.
But it’s FlyPelican’s routes out of Canberra and Newcastle that are the most interesting. Both are substantial cities with populations of around half a million (and more if you broaden the immediate population catchment zone).
Out of Canberra, FlyPelican flies north to Newcastle, Ballina Byron, and Port Macquarie – the only airline to do so. Ballina Byron and Port Macquarie are popular coastal holiday and lifestyle destinations while there’s a mixed bag of traffic on the Canberra – Newcastle route.
Newcastle Williamtown Airport is FlyPelican’s home port. Jetstar, Virgin Australia, and Qantas all fly into Williamtown, but they stick to the big city pairs. FlyPelican plugs some gaps, flying Newcastle – Ballina Byron, Newcastle – Dubbo, and Newcastle – Sunshine Coast.
Again, the airline is tapping into demand from a reasonably large city to northern holiday hotspots flying up to Ballina Byron and the Sunshine Coast. Those Dubbo flights target professionals and other business travelers needing to travel between Newcastle and the large central west service center.
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Competitive threats on the horizon?
The way FlyPelican has carved out its own space in the broader Australian domestic airline market provides something of a template for incomer Bonza. While there’s a big difference between FlyPelican’s Jetstreams and Bonza’s MAXs, Bonza also wants to fly where other airlines don’t.
But Bonza could shape up as something as a competitive threat to FlyPelican. Those skinny routes to small airports out of Sydney Airport won’t suit Bonza’s MAXs, and Canberra’s notoriously high airport charges will probably scare them away from Australia’s capital. However, Newcastle Williamtown must be on Bonza’s radar.
Routes like Newcastle – Ballina Byron and Newcastle – Sunshine Coast would potentially be a decent fit for Bonza. Bonza has a stated mission of carving out new routes, but it also has mentioned underserved routes. Whether it would come in and stomp all over a smaller airline is another question. Still, it’s one FlyPelican must be alive too.