First Shire says no to flight link

Alicia Perera and Taylar AmoniniPilbara News

The first Pilbara council to consider the feasibility of a plan to introduce an intra-regional flight service connecting North West towns has turned it down.

Kununurra-based aviation company Aviair is working on a proposal to set up a Pilbara Link flight service travelling between towns believed to include Broome, Port Hedland, Karratha, Onslow, Exmouth, Paraburdoo and Newman to create regular public transport air routes in the North West.

The plan is in an early feasibility stage and a draft memorandum of understanding is being put to local governments to explore the idea further in coming months.

Details of the MOU are confidential at this stage but its approach is understood in general to ask local governments if they would be willing to explore the idea further.

However, the Shire of Ashburton, the first local government to consider the draft MOU, turned it down at its council meeting last Tuesday, citing the likely expense for passengers.

Pilbara Regional Council chief executive Tony Friday said the draft proposal was an exciting prospect for residents, visiting businesspeople and tourists, with the region currently “under-serviced” for flights.

“If the PRC gets broad endorsement of that MOU then our next stage is to look far more deeply at both the commerciality of what’s been put forward and how we might be able to go about putting that in place, conscious of various levels of government regulation and the like,” he said.

“It’s important once we have a brief to proceed, it’s robust, its transparent, and we’re resolutely focused on the benefits for the region.”

Mr Friday said a majority of Pilbara councils would need to approve the draft MOU for it to be explored further.

Aviair managing director Michael McConachy confirmed the company was working on a proposal for an intra-regional flight service but said he was not in a position to comment on details because of commercial sensitivities.

Mr Friday said the project was still in its early stages and possible routes would have to be examined for economic viability.

The City of Karratha, Town of Port Hedland, Shire of East Pilbara, Shire of Exmouth and Shire of Broome are expected to consider the draft MOU at council meetings in coming weeks and several have expressed interest in the idea.

City of Karratha chief executive Chris Adams said the local government recognised “a number of positives could come from such a service”, while Town of Port Hedland Mayor Camilo Blanco said he welcomed any efforts to increase air connectivity in the region, though he said expense for participating local governments would be a key issue to explore.

Shire of Ashburton president Kerry White said councillors had turned down the draft MOU because they were concerned that despite both a waiver of landing fees and a financial subsidy being offered, the proposed fares would be too expensive for families.

“This would therefore likely have a low level of consumer use and the subsidy and lost revenue would need to be compensated for by ratepayers,” she said.

Karratha and Districts Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive John Lally said greater air connectivity in the Pilbara could be a boon for local tourism and business.

“It just saves businesses so much (money) and with tourism, especially high-end tourists, it’s the only way you move them around,” he said.

“So air service activity is critical.”

The company is embarking on a Pilbara expansion, which has included subsidiary company Helispirit beginning scenic helicopter flights in Karratha earlier this year.

If the draft MOU is approved by a majority of local governments, it will go into a detailed feasibility and commercial analysis stage.

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