Simple Flying gives the big Australian airlines Qantas and Virgin Australia plenty of coverage. Airlines the next tier down, Alliance, Rex, and Airnorth, get a decent run too. But what about the smaller airlines that don’t often make the news? The commuter airlines nobody hears much about? Here is a snapshot of five airlines that fly under the radar in Australia.
Bass Strait Island’s specialist Sharp Airlines
Based in Hamilton in western Victoria, Sharp Airlines operates a fleet of Fairchild Metroliners – pressurized twin-turboprop 19 seat planes. Sharp Airlines is your go-to airline for Bass Strait Island flights out of Melbourne and Tasmania. Sharp Airlines connects King (KNS) and Flinders (FLS) Islands to Launceston (LST), Hobart (HBA), and Melbourne Essendon (MEB).
The airline also flies to Burnie (BWT), the northern Tasmanian airport recently gatecrashed by QantasLink and Griffith (GFF) in regional New South Wales. Qantas has also recently rolled up in Griffith but not flying Sharp’s Melbourne-Griffith sector. Qantas is coming in from Sydney (SYD).
Western Australia’s Aviair
Across the country in Western Australia, Kununurra-based Aviair operates Pilatus PC12 pressurized single-engine turbine aircraft and B200 King Air twin-turbine planes on passenger services around the Kimberley and Pilbara. They fly from Kununurra (KNX) to Halls Creek (HCQ), Balgo (BQW), and Kalumburu (UBU) and from Karratha (KTA) to Newman (ZNE), Port Hedland (PHE), Broome (BME), and Derby (DRB), and also direct between Newman and Port Hedland.
You can fly Qantas or Virgin Australia to Broome to hook up with Aviair, but there are no interline agreements, and you’ll need to walk over to Aviair’s own terminal in Broome. That sounds swish, but it’s not. In fact, it’s a pretty basic affair. But it’s fun.
Seven seater planes flying in western New South Wales
Still out in the dust, Air Link connects western New South Wales towns to its Dubbo (DBO) hub and onto Qantas or Rex flights through to Sydney. Air Link flies from Dubbo to Bourke (BRK), Walgett (WGE), and Lightning Ridge (LHG) in Piper Chieftain aircraft. BRK, WGE, and LHG are all small remote towns that lost their air services a generation ago. With government assistance, a new generation of airlines like Air Link has stepped in to fill the gap.
Chartair flies to Uluru
In the Northern Territory, Chartair is a low-profile alternative to Airnorth and is the sole operator on a key tourist route – Alice Springs (ASP) to Uluru (AYQ). The airline has 40 plus planes, mostly Cessnas but also Beechcraft Baron 58s.
The airline’s core business are charters, but Chartair does run regular passenger services on select routes, including Darwin (DRW) to Groote Eylandt (GTE), Darwin to Katherine (KTR), Darwin to Peppimenarrti (PEP), and the Uluru flights. Given it is 280 miles (450 kilometers) between Alice Springs and Uluru and plenty of people try to do it in a day, flying in is an easier option than driving.
FlyPelican’s Jetstream 32s
Over east, Newcastle Williamtown Airport (NTL) FlyPelican is a bigger operation. With a fleet of 19 seater Jetstream 32 turboprop planes, FlyPelican connects NTL to airports like Canberra (CBR), Sunshine Coast (MCY), Ballina (BNA), and Dubbo. FlyPelican also flies from Sydney and Canberra to a variety of regional destinations around New South Wales. They are a mini Regional Express without the drama. After NTL-based Impulse Airlines was swallowed up by Qantas years ago, FlyPelican is helping put Newcastle Williamtown Airport back on the map.
These are all small airlines flying small aircraft. They are not posh. There are no airport lounges, upgrades, and terminals can be little more than tin sheds. Aside from highly competent pilots, inflight service might extend to a pass-around esky with a few Cokes and mystery meat sandwiches. But these airlines also offer hands-on full sensory flying along with views you’ll never see at 37,000 feet in an Airbus.
What airlines aren’t included here? Post a comment and let us know.