DEVELOPER John Wagner says there were those who considered him a ‘d___head’ for going ahead and building an airport able to take large freighter aircraft on Queensland’s Darling Downs.
Brisbane West (Toowoomba) Wellcamp Airport was built and bankrolled by the Wagner family with a view to enhancing trade with Asia, particularly in relation to meat.
“When I was going to these airport conferences, I’d always go and meet up with these cargo guys and they said to me, ‘listen, you’re a d___head’ basically,” Mr Wagner told the Australian Grains Industry Conference in Melbourne.
“(We were told) ‘freighters (aircraft) don’t run out of regional ports, they run out of Sydney and Melbourne. There’s not a freighter service out of Brisbane so you are a dreamer’.”
Mr Wagner said he was not prepared to accept that response.
“I could just see the rising middle class in China, all the protein requirements and the fact that producers in our region have four or five export accredited abattoirs within an hour or so of the airport and close to the biggest agricultural producing region in the country with the highest concentration of feedlot cattle in the Southern Hemisphere,” he said.
“So why wouldn’t it be a natural hub.”
Mr Wagner said it took close to a year to convince an airline, Cathay Pacific, to “at least give it a go”.
So in November 2015, Cathay Pacific brought in a 747-800 “to test the water”, the first time such an aircraft had operated out of Queensland.
He talked of subsequent growth.
“We have a scheduled freight service that comes in every Tuesday and takes a whole range of products up to Hong Kong.
“From Hong Kong it gets delivered to the US, the Middle East, Bangkok and the UK.”
Mr Wagner expressed confidence going forward.
“We expect, and are confident, that (there will be) two (air freighters) a week in April and I think ultimately, within a couple of years, at least one aircraft a day running out of our airport up to Asia.
“The demand is certainly there – the demand for dedicated freight is rising.”