Eight hours on a Saab, am I crazy? You bet! – Photo: Jacob Pfleger | AirlineReporter
On my last trip to Australia, I was fortunate enough to experience the “Centre Run” with Airnorth; a series of flights through the centre of the country. Now while this was an exciting adventure, there is an even more crazy series of flights that can be done in outback Australia. I am referring to the Regional Express (Rex) Milk Run.
This milk run serves a series of remote communities in the Australian state of Queensland. In total, it is a series of seven flights — yes you read correctly, seven. It originates in the capital of Queensland, Brisbane, and flies all the way up to Mount Isa, a major resource town in northwestern Queensland.
Record rainfall made for an interesting flight in more way than one – Photo: Jacob Pfleger | AirlineReporter
The flights are operated by a Saab 340 turbo-prop, and it is possible to book a ticket from Brisbane-Mount Isa. The price is approximately US$300, which is very affordable given that it includes seven flight sectors and close to nine hours of flying. So on my most recent trip “down-under” I was once again questioning my sanity when I booked this trip (something that is becoming a frequent occurrence on my trips to Australia of late).
Airnorth operates a fleet of E120 Brasilias on the “centre run” and shorter regional routes – Photo: Jacob Pfleger | AirlineReporter
Following my excellent flight on Airnorth’s jet service from Cairns to Darwin, where I got my first real taste of outback flying in Australia, I was left longing for more outback adventures. When I was planning my trip to Darwin, I came across the “centre-run” operated once again by Airnorth. This was the perfect opportunity for me to not only get my fix of outback flying, but also to experience the Embraer E120 Brasilia for the first time – an increasingly rare aircraft type. At one point in the booking process, I did have to question my sanity. Due to time constraints, I could only do a flight same day return, meaning that I would be flying over 1600 miles in nearly eight hours on a turbo-prop in the Northern Territory’s wet season. Needless to say, my AvGeek mentality took over and I booked the flight without a second guess.
A long way to go in a turbo-prop – Image: Great Circle Mapper
The “centre run” (or “milk run” as referred to by the locals), is a three segment flight from Darwin (DRW) in the top-end to Alice springs (ASP), in Australia’s Red Centre. On the way, the flight stops at Katherine (KTR) and Tennant Creek (TCA); both are key regional communities located on the Stuart Highway which stretches across the continent from Darwin to Adelaide. The route was re-launched in September of 2014 as part of the Northern Territory government’s commitment to developing air services to remote communities. In order to maintain this essential air service, the route is currently subsidized by the government.
Airnorth operates a fleet of Embraer E-170 jets on the longer regional routes – Photo: Jacob Pfleger | AirlineReporter
In a country as vast as Australia, it is no surprise that the population relies heavily on air transport, particularly in the more remote regions of the country. For the residents in these regions, these air services provide a vital lifeline. In many regions of Australia, these remote air routes are subsidised by the government. While the local residents view these services as an essential link to the outside world, for the AvGeek, it is a unique opportunity to experience some interesting aircraft types, airlines, and routes.
One such flight route that I was fortunate enough to experience recently was from Cairns to Darwin, via Gove. While there are at least three direct flights per day from Cairns to Darwin on the other carriers, I was very interested to try out the service offered by Airnorth.
Airnorth was established in 1978 and has always had a strong focus on providing air services within the remote regions of Australia’s top-end. In recent years, the company has been focusing in particular on the contract charter market, as well as FIFO operations.