Virgin Blue Boeing 737 at Townsville after arriving from Brisbane
Jetstar Boeing 717 at Townsville Airport, Inaugural Jetstar flight to Townsville

Townsville Airport (IATA: TSVICAO: YBTL) is a major Australian regional airport that services the city of Townsville. The airport is also known as Townsville International Airport, and Garbutt Airport, a reference to its location in the Townsville suburb of Garbutt. Townsville Airport is serviced by major Australian domestic and regional airlines, and in 2011/12 handled 1.7 million[2] passengers making it the 11th busiest airport in Australia.

Townsville International Airport is a common-use civilian and defence facility, sharing access with RAAF Base Townsville. It is used as a staging point for Australian Defence Force (ADF) operations within Australia and internationally. The aerodrome has also been used for co-ordination of relief efforts following Tropical Cyclones and other natural disasters, notably Cyclone Larry in 2006.

Townsville Airport was the first[citation needed] Australian regional city airport to be granted international airport status commencing in 1980. International traffic grew substantially through the early 1980s then receded however as a result of airline market restructuring, and significant competition with Cairns Airport for regional tourism. The airport then suffered an extended hiatus from handling direct civil international flights with the final Qantas international service in 2002, between Townsville and Singapore via Brisbane using a Boeing 767. From December 2010, the city again handled direct international flights, flown by Strategic Airlines to Bali Denpasar Airport.[3] These flights ceased with the insolvency of Strategic Airlines. The airport maintains customs capacity and the potential for international services.

The airport is located 2 nautical miles (3.7 km; 2.3 mi) west of the Townsville CBD.[1]


The first airport was established in the 1920s in the Thuringowa Shire south of the Ross River, in what is now the suburb of Murray.[4] It was licensed as a civil airport by the Civil Aviation Branch in 1930, but it was never very satisfactory, as the ground was boggy for much of the year, and there was only room for one east-west runway. In 1938 a larger site was selected within the City of Townsville on the Town Common, adjacent to Ingham Road and the North Coast Railway. Two 800 yd (730 m) gravel runways were constructed, and the new Townsville Airport officially opened on its present site on 1 February 1939.

The Department of Defence was looking for military airfield sites in northern Australia at the time, and almost immediately Townsville Airport was planned for expansion as a Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) base for three fighter squadrons. The plans were scaled back to one squadron, and RAAF Base Townsville was built alongside the civil airport in early 1940. In October 1940, Number 24 Squadron, flying CAC Wirraways, became the first operational unit to occupy the base. A year later the airfield was greatly expanded to take United States Army Air Corps bombers and transport aircraft reinforcing the Philippines. All three runways were sealed, and the south-east runway was extended to 5,000 ft (1,500 m) to take the heavier aircraft. The work was nearly finished in early December 1941 when the Pacific War began.[citation needed]

During 1942, the defence establishment in the Townsville region increased enormously, and five other military airfields were built in the immediate vicinity of Townsville. To avoid confusion, RAAF Base Townsville was renamed RAAF Base Garbutt, the name of the nearby railway siding, where there were stockyards owned by Garbutt Brothers, wholesale butchers. The civil airport continued to operate during the war, and retained the name Townsville Airport. RAAF Base Garbutt was renamed RAAF Base Townsville in 1951.

Townsville Airport experienced a progressive increase in passenger numbers and aircraftmovements after World War II, with services operated by Qantas, Trans Australia Airlines (TAA), Australian National Airways (ANA) and Ansett Australia (Ansett) to Brisbane, however it wasn't until the mid-1960s that airport growth really accelerated. During that period TAA and Ansett – ANA received numerous jet aircraft, particularly Boeing 727s and McDonnell Douglas DC-9s. Following that period of rapid growth, Townsville was developed as a regional hub for both airlines during the 1970s.

In April 1980, Sir Rupert Murdoch and Sir Peter Abeles, the new owners of Ansett, were petitioning the Federal Government for international flights to begin in some regional centres of Australia. On 18 April 1980, the inaugural Townsville-Singapore flight departed, operated by Ansett, one of the first international flights Ansett had ever operated. In the same year, Townsville Airport was given $13m by the government-owned operator, Federal Airports Corporation, to construct and build a new state-of-the-art international terminal, and in 1981, it was opened with the arrival of a Qantas Boeing 747.

With the new demand for international services, Townsville became the first regional Australian airport to offer direct long-distance international flights. Airlines providing direct services included Qantas, Ansett, Air Niugini, Continental Micronesia, Garuda Indonesia, Air New Zealand, Cathay Pacific and Japan Airlines (JAL). Destinations in Asia included Singapore, Tokyo, Hong Kong; Auckland, Port Moresby and Honolulu in the Pacific; and the North American cities of San Francisco, and Los Angeles. The American flights reflected the significant tourism demand between the United States and Australia at the time. Today many of these services would be considered unrealistic for regional airports, as evidenced by the gradual withdrawal of services from Townsville.

The airport was expanded again in 1987 when a redevelopment of the international terminal opened to cater for domestic traffic. In 1989, the Australian aviation industry was in a crisis with the pilots dispute ceasing nearly all domestic flights in the country. Throughout the period of the strike some international flights continued, and by 1991 most domestic services had returned to normal.

During the 1990s a new crisis was looming for Townsville International Airport. The airlines began to explore rationalising services in North Queensland. Load factors on international flights were increasing however the number of services was steadily diminishing. The friendly rivalry between Townsville and Cairns with respect to hosting international flights was becoming more serious as the airlines started to rationalise services. Cairns Airport campaigned with a major proposal for improved airport facilities, including a separate international terminal capable of accommodating significantly greater passenger numbers than Townsville's terminal and Cairns' original terminal. In 1993 when Cairns' new terminal opened, all the airlines, except Qantas, Ansett, Cathay Pacific and Garuda, stopped international flights to Townsville, and eventually by 1995 the remaining airlines ceased international flights to Townsville.

Townsville's International Aerobridge and gate. It was opened in 1981, and in recent years has been used infrequently for regular passenger flights as international flights scaled back

In the mid-1990s domestic flights started to decrease, with some services being cut back by Qantas and Ansett. Qantas began to retire the aircraft type in use on the route to Sydney which resulted in a decrease in services to that city. Services also received a giant drop when Ansett was placed into voluntary liquidation in late 2001. Approximately 40% of Townsville's flights and capacity to Brisbane were cut because of Ansett's financial collapse. The same year also represented the start of a new era in domestic travel for Townsville International Airport: in February 2001, Virgin Blue (now Virgin Australia) made Townsville its first regional destination, and passenger figures rose by 25% that year. Then in June 2001, Qantas announced that the airline would resume international services to Singapore in September. In August, Qantas announced that it would resume Townsville-Sydney services using Boeing 717 aircraft acquired when Qantas bought out Impulse Airlines. When Ansett collapsed, Qantas and Virgin expanded services to exploit the gap that Ansett left.

In August 2002, Qantas ceased the services to Singapore, which had been at times circuitously routed via southern airports such as Brisbane, due to lack of demand. Despite the loss of international services, Virgin Blue, Qantas and a new airline, Alliance Airlines were increasing domestic flights to Townsville, bringing more passengers to the city and increasing domestic tourism to Townsville. Also that year, Australian Airports Ltd announced that Townsville domestic terminal would receive a State-of-the-art upgrade and the new redevelopment would open in October 2003. The redevelopment was scheduled to open October 2003 to coincide with the hosting of three Rugby World Cup matches in Townsville, however delays beset the project and the redevelopment finally opened in December 2003. A new international route operated by Strategic Airlines started twice weekly to Denpasar from 3 December 2010, however these services have since been terminated.[5]

On 15 November 2011, Air North announced plans to commence services between Townsville & Darwin. The flights began on 17 February 2012, providing a linkage between the two largest Defence communities in Northern Australia.

Passenger airlines and destinations

Airlines Destinations
Airnorth Darwin
Alliance Airlines Cloncurry
Mining charter: Cairns, Lawn Hill, Cannington Mine, Century Mine, Phosphate Hill Mine, Mount Isa
JetGo Australia Mining charter: Brisbane, Osbourne Mine
Jetstar Airways Brisbane, Denpasar (begins 2 September 2015),[6]Melbourne, Sydney,
Qantas Brisbane
QantasLink operated by Sunstate Airlines Cairns, Cloncurry, Gladstone, Mackay, Moranbah, Mount Isa, Rockhampton
Regional Express Cairns, Hughenden, Julia Creek, Longreach, Mount Isa, Richmond, Winton
Mining charter: Osbourne Mine, Mount Dore, Selwyn Mine
Virgin Australia Brisbane, Sydney

Prospective flights

The PNG PM wants a Townsville to Port Moresby route re-established by the end of 2013.[7]

Jetstar has announced it will commence flights from Townsville to Bali on 2 September 2015. [1]

Cargo airlines and destinations

Airlines Destinations
Australian air Express Brisbane, Cairns
HeavyLift Cargo Airlines Darwin, Honiara (defence charters)
Toll Priority Sydney

Accidents and incidents


Busiest domestic routes out of Townsville Airport (2012)[9]
Rank Airport Passengers carried  % change
1 01 !Queensland, Brisbane 994,200 Increase03 !1.7
2 03 !New South Wales, Sydney 189,600 Increase02 !5.6
3 02 !Queensland, Cairns 179,800 Decrease01 !4.8

Terminals and facilities


Inside the Departures/Arrivals lounge at Townsville International Airport

Townsville International Airport has an integrated terminal building, with the Southern concourse the international terminal, and the Northern concourse the domestic terminal. The terminal has four aerobridges (1 international, 3 domestic) and three ground level tarmac departure / arrival gates for regional flights at the Northern end of the terminal.


In October 2002, redevelopment started on the domestic terminal. It was officially opened on 12 December 2003. The redevelopment was part of a broader modernisation program for the airport.

The project included a new common user departures and arrivals lounge, new modern check-in facilities for Qantas and QantasLink, a new Qantas Club adjacent to the new departures lounge, new retail stores and airside retail space, a new mezzanine level with departure lounges, and three aerobridges for aircraft up to the size of Boeing 767 aircraft.

On 13 December 2003, an "Open Day" was held for Townsville residents to view the new look airport. Later that evening, a Qantas flight from Brisbane became the first arrival to use the new departures/arrivals lounges, and after overnighting in Townsville also became the first departure at 6:05 am (AEST) 14 December 2003, returning to Brisbane.

In 2008 another upgrade project was completed, with an improvement of the check-in desks of the current airlines and an extra two desks built for Virgin Australia. Two of the four entrances into the terminal were redeveloped to improve passenger access, and further upgrades were made to retail space.

Qantas maintains a Qantas Club lounge in the airport terminal, with access for Qantas Club and affiliate members.

The future development of the airport is governed by a 30-year master plan. Projected developments include a new Virgin Australia business lounge, expansion of the International terminal area, and re-development of the entire land-side terminal area.

In May 2015, Townsville Airport announced plans for a $40 million redevelopment of the current terminal. Totally reconfiguring the layout of the terminal and also slightly expanding floor space. [2]


The terminal is serviced by bus (Sunbus Route 5/5A), with regular connections to the CBD, Strand and Ferry terminals (Magnetic Island and Great Barrier Reef departures / arrivals).

Aerospace activities

NAACEX or the Northern Australian Aerospace Centre of Excellence is an Aviation business park, located at Townsville Airport, that was announced by Queensland Airports Ltd is February 2007. The precinct is one of many being set up at airports around Australia, and is the first of its kind in Northern Australia. The centre opened in late-2007, with tenants BAE Systems and Worland Aviation starting operations in the new hangars (Stage 1 of the project) built just north of the Terminal.[10]


  1. ^ a b YBTL – TOWNSVILLE/Townsville Intl (PDF). AIP En Route Supplement from Airservices Australia, effective 29 May 2014
  2. ^[dead link]
  3. ^ "Fly direct to Bali for only $199, Townsville Bulletin News". 16 September 2010. Retrieved 30 May 2011. 
  4. ^ History of Thuringowa City[dead link]
  5. ^ (16 September 2010). Strategic adds new Brisbane-Townsville-Bali service. Australian Aviation. Retrieved 3 June 2014.
  6. ^
  7. ^ (1 July 2013). PNG PM wants Townsville-Port Moresby flights to take off. ABC News. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 3 June 2014.
  8. ^ "A76-73 Accident description". Aviation Safety Network. Retrieved 19 September 2010. 
  9. ^ "Domestic airline activity December 2012" (PDF). February 2013. Retrieved 17 March 2013. 
  10. ^ "$60 Flights, Townsville 'on Tiger's radar'". Retrieved 3 March 2007. 

External links

About Townsville Airport-(IATA: TSV, ICAO: YBTL)


  • Visit: Website
  • Hours: 4:30 am – 11:00 pm daily
  • Address: Garbutt QLD 4814, Australia