The Whitsunday Coast Regional Airport upgrade is on the home stretch as the $15 million terminal expansion reaches the fifth and final stage of the project.
Travellers coming to and departing from the region by air will soon be greeted with a mini aquarium, a 3D augmented reality, more toilets, bigger departure lounges and a larger baggage claim area.
The project was launched in July last year and had initially expected to be completed by Christmas 2018, but a few hiccups pushed the finish date out to the end of April.
Whitsunday Regional Council director of major projects Tim Rose acknowledged the delays, but overall said he was happy with the progress.
“The cabling in the ceiling and under the floor had to be redone, because of rodent issues, and there was rust in some of the older steel structures,” he said.
“It’s run a little bit over time, but it’s going to be a really good product when it’s finished.”
Mayor Andrew Willcox is particularly excited about the $340,000 aquarium, which is set to be home for up to 126 fish.
The arrival of the highly anticipated aquarium was delayed about two months, because of construction issues and last month’s monsoon, but Mr Rose said it would be a point of difference for the airport.
“As far as I know, it will be the only aquarium in an airport anywhere in Australia and I think that’s a pretty unique proposition to be in,” he said.
Cr Willcox said he was looking forward to seeing pictures of the aquarium posted to social media once it was finished.
“We want your (visitors) experience to start from the moment you land,” he said.
“We want good baggage handling facilities, good bathroom facilities, so everyone can then go and hit the buses, hit the cars and go and see everything the Whitsundays has to offer.
“Similarly we want everyone to have a good departure experience, we want people to come and sit down and be a lot more comfortable.
“The kids can have a play around the aquarium, we want everyone to have fun.”
Cr Willcox said the expansion had been built with further expansions in mind, as the region’s population is expected to grow at an annual rate of 2.3 per cent over the next 20 years.
“We’ve master-planned the whole project; we don’t want to build something that hampers our growth further down the track,” Cr Willcox said.
Another interesting addition is the augmented reality, designed to keep newly-arrived passengers entertained while they await the arrival of their luggage in the baggage claim area.
It cost about $270,000, and for those unfamiliar with the concept, augmented reality adds digital elements to a live view, a bit like Snapchat filters or the popular game Pokemon Go.
“The airport is the first point of contact, for probably about 200,000 to 300,000 people per year and if they get a really good experience here, it will just showcase the rest of the of the Whitsundays and what it’s got to offer,” Mr Rose said.
“People will talk about it, and once the tourists start talking to each other and say, ‘oh you know look you can see this and this at the airport’- not that the airport has ever been a tourist attraction itself, but it does become a tourist attraction.”
Council’s general manager of Airports and Commercial Infrastructure Brian Joiner said 28 flights departed the airport each week, with three extra Virgin Australia services to Brisbane added late last year..
Jetstar Airways has three direct services to Sydney, four to Melbourne and seven to Brisbane, making a total of 14 flights each week.
Tigerair has four direct services to Sydney each week, and Virgin Airlines has 10 departing flights to Brisbane each week.
Mr Joiner said once the airport was finished, the focus would be on making the Whitsunday region a year-round destination, to ensure the flight services stayed put.
“If passenger numbers go up, airlines will put more flights on,” he said.