The Narrandera Shire Council has confirmed that it is in talks with Wagners, a Toowoomba based exports firm with its own airport, regarding the possibility of Narrandera-Leeton airport being used as an export base for premium Riverina produce.
Council General Manager George Cowan said Wagners had contacted the Council regarding the proposal and stressed the point that discussions were in the early stages.
“I can tell you from the outset that is very early days. At the moment we are responding to an approach from Mr Wagner to export fine foods from this region, using the Narrandera-Leeton airport,” Mr Cowan said. “At the moment we’ve got a number of agri-businesses in the region that produce fine foods and export premium products by air – the returns are enough for this model to be economical.
“Those products include premium cuts of meat, fish – products that are perishable. They’re very valuable to the overseas market and it’s very financially viable. It’s high-end produce that we’re looking to co-ordinate.”
While there are already agri-businesses in the region utilising air-freight, the presence of an exporting model directly out of Narrandera would allow for a reduction in road freight costs. Mr Cowan said the Council was keen to look at any opportunities that might exist for Wagners to set up a service of that kind for this region utilising the Narrandera-Leeton Airport.
“We’ve extended an invitation to Mr Wagner to come down here and hold discussions about the possibilities.
“We’re centrally located and we’re on the intersection of two highways. We’re perfectly located for a service of this nature. If we could sort it and coordinate it from here – it’s got great potential, and it’s a real positive,” Mr Cowan said.
The Wagner family comprising patriarch Henry and sons John, Denis, Neill and Joe initially founded a concrete, quarries and transport business, Wagners, at Toowoomba in 1989. It has since grown into one of Queensland’s largest privately owned construction materials and mining services firms, working on major road, tunnel, bridge, mining, gas, dam and infrastructure projects across Australia and overseas.
Wagners operates in 22 locations across the world. The family ploughed $100 million of their own money into transforming a wheat farm in Toowoomba into Australia’s newest major airport and freight hub for agriculture exports.
Opened in 2013, Wellcamp airport (officially Brisbane West Wellcamp, despite being 150km from Brisbane’s CBD) was Australia’s first privately funded major airport and the biggest airport development in the nation since Melbourne’s Tullamarine was completed in 1970.
It came complete with an 8000 square metre terminal and a 2.98km runway capable of handling 747 jumbo jets. Its location on the Darling Downs (home to a quarter of Queensland’s agricultural output) was capitalised on by freighting more than 60 tonnes of local fresh produce direct to Hong Kong on a scheduled weekly flight. The airport opened up exciting opportunities for farmers to market their produce to lucrative Asian markets.
The idea for the private airport came about at the start of this decade when the family experienced problems attracting national and international tenants to its planned business park, adjacent to the airport site, due to “connectivity” issues.
An airport capable of taking larger plans was needed as Toowoomba had only a small airport that could handle small planes. In April 2012, the Wagners agreed to proceed with the project on a 5000ha farm they had owned since the 1980s. They presented their application to the local council two months later. By December they had received approval and work started on the airport in early 2013. It was built in 19 months and 11 days.
Wellcamp has positioned itself as a major hub for the export of perishable agricultural goods direct to Asia, product that otherwise would have been shipped in passenger jets from Brisbane or on freight planes from Sydney.
Cathay Pacific began a 747 weekly freight service to Hong Kong originating in Melbourne and allows room for 60-70 tonnes of goods, including chilled and frozen beef, nuts, mangoes, chicken and lettuce to be collected at Wellcamp en route. The Wagners have confirmed that they are currently in discussions with a few regional airports looking at entering similar arrangements, including Narrandera and Deniliquin.
Global chairman and airport developer John Wagner said the first flight out of Wellcamp had opened the door to direct access to the Asian market.
“These are exciting times for rural producers and we anticipate endless possibilities,” he said.