Cairns welcomes back flights from Singapore, through SilkAir

CAIRNS, AUSTRALIA - SilkAir commenced thrice-weekly flights to Cairns, on Saturday, resuming direct Singapore links to the Australian city since its parent Singapore Airlines pulled out in 2001.

Fourteen years later, the transport links come at a time when the area's economic fortunes are waxing.

For one thing, a report released by Unesco on Friday night said the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area, to which Cairns is the main gateway, should not be listed in danger.

An "in-danger" listing would have ravaged the country's tourism earnings, which goes up to A$6 billion (S$6.19 billion) yearly.

For another, the region is guaranteed a new integrated resort development, of which one of the proposals - the Aquis Great Barrier Reef resort - is worth an expected A$8.15 billion.

Mayor of Cairns Bob Manning told The Straits Times that SilkAir had "gotten in at the right time".

He earlier said in his welcome speech in an inauguration ceremony that "Cairns is on the major cusp of surge of investment and development."

"Your (SilkAir's) timing is impeccable."

North Queensland Airport chairman Ross Rolfe said the new flights were expected to result in some A$40 million of tourist spending and the creation of about 300 jobs.

SilkAir's chief executive Leslie Thng said "it was not an easy decision to come to Cairns", because, at about 6h 30min long, it is the carrier's longest and costliest flight to operate.

He added that the flights would help connect Cairns to "lucrative" markets such as Germany, India and China, via Singapore.

serl@sph.com.sg