24 June 2021

Is Cootamundra Airport the celebrity gateway to NSW?

| Edwina Mason
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Entrance to Cootamundra Airport

Aviation data and analytics company Cirium stands by its statistics that says 20 international private flights landed at Cootamundra Airport from April 2020 to May 2021. Photo: Robert Myers.

Cootamundra Airport has come under the COVID-19 spotlight after reports it has played host to the second highest number of incoming private international flights to Australia in the past 12 months.

Figures from aviation data and analytics firm Cirium, cited recently in The Sydney Morning Herald, showed that of the 113 private international flights arriving in Australia between 1 April, 2020, and 26 May, 2021, the majority landed at Bunbury in Western Australia, and 20 of them landed at Cootamundra Airport.

Sydney rated third (13), just ahead of Cleve in South Australia (12), Boigu Island in Queensland (7), Brisbane (5), Armidale (5), Coolangatta (4) and Cunnamulla in Queensland (4).

Keith Urban and Nicole Kidman

Could Cootamundra Airport be the entry point for Keith Urban and Nicole Kidman, whose Southern Highlands property is just a few hours away? Photo: Instagram.

Cities of origin for the flights to Cootamundra include the US cities of New Orleans (3), Nashville (1), Charleston (1) and Romeoville (1).

But this is all news to the airport’s managers – Cootamundra-Gundagai Regional Council – who told Region Media they didn’t know anything about incoming international flights.

Mayor Abb McAlister said he read the report in The Sydney Morning Herald and it was the first he heard of this issue.

“To me, it is a concern that this could be happening when council and the community aren’t aware of it during COVID-19,” he said.

NSW Health, who must manage mandatory COVID-19 quarantine requirements in NSW, are also in the dark.

They referred any questions to the Australian Border Force (ABF), who said it was in no way connected to them.

A spokesperson finally issued a statement saying NSW Health is not aware of international flights landing at Cootamundra.

And by all accounts, the flights are also arriving under the radar of the ABF who are responsible for processing travellers and providing customs and immigration clearance of travellers.

Rupert Murdoch

The Yass holdings of the Murdoch family (Rupert Murdoch pictured) are within reach of Cootamundra airport. Photo: Wikipedia.

The ABF told Region Media they have no record of a private international charter flight arriving into Cootamundra.

What about 20?

“No flights at all,” the ABF responded.

They said all international aircraft arriving in Australia are required to present for border clearance at a designated international airport or an alternative airport approved in writing by the ABF.

They confirmed travellers can arrive and be cleared at main airport terminals, off-terminal at main airports, or at restricted-use or non-international airports.

“Charter operators or pilots of international aircraft seeking to land at a restricted-use or a non-international airport [where there is no permanent border agency presence] must request permission from the ABF,” they said.

“The ABF approved 48 flights to arrive at restricted-use airports around the country from 1 February, 2021, to 22 May, 2021, and we have no record of a private international charter flight arriving into Cootamundra, NSW.”

The ABF wasn’t prepared to clarify the number of flights arriving in Australia between April 2020 and May 2021.

“Additionally, aircraft arriving into a non-international airport is coordinated through the National Passenger Processing Committee (NPPC) comprising Commonwealth agencies with border responsibilities,” the ABF stated.

“No clearances have been issued for international aircraft arrival at Cootamundra, NSW.”

Chris Hemsworth and daughter

Actor Chris Hemsworth was recently spotted mustering sheep with his children on a property near Jugiong. Photo: Instagram.

Social media burbled with a few theories when a copy of the The Sydney Morning Herald article was posted on the ‘Cootamundra Matters’ Facebook page. Names such as Rupert Murdoch, Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban were floated alongside Chris Hemsworth and Matt Damon, who were recently spotted chasing sheep and buying coffee near Jugiong.

And then there’s the fact international agricultural pastoral holdings, horse stud and polo enterprises heavily sprinkle the countryside.

But putting pay to all of them was a comment from one local who used to work in the control tower at Wagga Wagga Airport. He said there were a limited range of circumstances where landing at a non-designated airport may be approved by the ABF.

“But it is extremely rare,” he said. “In 10 years, I saw two flights approved for direct arrival from overseas.”

Federal and state transport ministers were also contacted for comment, but none were forthcoming with replies.

Deputy Prime Minister and Member for Riverina Michael McCormack is also the federal Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development.

He also deferred to the ABF response.

A spokesperson from Cirium said the company could confirm that the flight information provided in relation to Cootamundra Airport was captured in Cirium data.

Mayor McAlister jibed that if Keith Urban was using the airport, he hoped at the very least there would be a free concert in it for Cootamundra.

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