Since its beginnings nearly 90 years ago Cairns Airport has grown to become one of the busiest regional airports in Australia welcoming almost 5 million passengers per year and making a major contribution to our regional economy.
The first aeroplane flight in Cairns was recorded in August 1914, when barnstormer-style pilot Captain Arthur Jones, brought his plane here for a demonstration flight. People came from far and wide to witness the spectacle. Unfortunately the flight ended with a crash landing, but luckily Jones, and aviation in Cairns, survived.
Air travel was established in Cairns in 1929 when pioneer aviator Tom McDonald bought a De Havilland Gypsy Moth aircraft and began operating flights to southern centres.
He constructed the town’s first landing strip himself that year, laying a track of just over 90 metres using ash from the local gasworks. He also built a rough hangar to house his plane. This was the true beginning of Cairns Airport and the region’s aviation industry.
Some claim the first international flight into Cairns aerodrome was recorded during WW11, a flight from New Guinea in 1941.
The post-war years saw many more improvements to the aerodrome facilities and while by 1964 there were the first rumblings of the need for an international airport in Cairns, it was another 20 years before this became a reality.
In its early years the airport was controlled first by the Cairns City Council and later the Civil Aviation Board. Until the Cairns Harbour Board, later known as Cairns Port Authority (CPA), assumed control of Cairns Airport in 1981, all airport facilities were located on the land immediately adjacent to the Captain Cook Highway, where the General Aviation precinct stands today. It was capable of handling smaller commuter aircraft but not the larger aircraft starting to service the major Australian routes and the busier international routes.
CPA pushed ahead with construction of Cairns International Airport in 1983 on the site of today’s Domestic Terminal.
As construction work progressed on a terminal envisaged to cater for both domestic and international flights, so too did the negotiations with the Commonwealth Government of the day to grant Cairns Airport the right to operate international flights.
At long last this became a reality and the first international flight was welcomed to the new terminal in March 1984 was once again coming in from New Guinea, one of the Air Niugini services that had operated into Cairns for the previous 10 years and has continued to do so ever since.
In its first year as an official international airport there were 45,000 international passengers through Cairns. Throughout the 1980s local groups worked with government to boost Cairns as an international tourist destination, with a strong focus on Japan as the major source market.
So successful was the push that a new, separate international terminal building was built. Completed in 1990 this building was designed to service the growing number of international passengers arriving here from Japan, United States, United Kingdom, Europe and New Zealand.
The new dedicated international terminal was officially opened by then Queensland Premier Wayne Goss on 6 September 1990 and, now known as T1, it still welcomes our international services to Cairns today.
The terminal was extended and refurbished in 1997 with three new aerobridges added. By the early 2000s passenger numbers through T1 peaked at 860,000. Unfortunately economic pressures in Japan, followed by the GFC, put the brakes on international passenger growth for a few years but after weathering those challenging times we are now seeing upward trends once again.
In recent years the introduction of low cost carriers has had a big impact on international travel with more affordable fares on offer. The development of more efficient aircraft has also been a factor with airlines able to fly more passengers further on less fuel.
We continue to attract a range of new international carriers and routes. In March this year we welcomed the introduction of a direct Cairns-Bali service by Jetstar. This route is proving popular with holidaying local residents and it is also being well utilised by European and Asian visitors to Cairns.
In May Singapore Airline’s regional arm, SilkAir, launched a Singapore service that provides direct links with this important aviation hub, again providing another convenient aviation access route for visitors from other parts of Asia and Europe.
Philippine Airlines will launch their new route this December with a return service from Manila to Cairns and on to Auckland. Manila also has excellent connections with other parts of Asia and Europe while there are good links from Auckland to other parts of New Zealand and North America.
There has been amazing growth in the number of people keen to travel overseas from Asia, particularly China. With Chinese visitors now the top source market for our destination, securing direct year round services from mainland China is a priority for Cairns Airport. Meanwhile the seasonal services around the popular Chinese New Year period continue to grow.
Hong Kong Airlines will make their inaugural flight into Cairns this January as they launch a three month series of charter flights to cover the busy Chinese New Year period. China Eastern will also return to Cairns in January for their seasonal Chinese New Year service from Shanghai. These all add to Cathay Pacific’s year round service from Hong Kong.