Tourist aviation operators are banking on better times in 2010-11.
SCENIC flights over some of the state’s iconic locations have been popular with tourists to Western Australia for decades.
One of the state’s oldest and largest tourism-focused airlines is Kununurra-based Alligator Airways, which has been operating scenic tours across the Kimberley for almost three decades.
Alligator Airways owner Allison Kendrick says her business remains in demand despite a tough 2009, ensuring her 25 pilots and fleet of 16 aircraft, including the region’s only float plane, keep relatively busy.
“We avoided most of the concerns of the global economic situation, but we are slightly down from 2007 which was a good year for the company’s turnover,” Mrs Kendrick told Business Class.
“The 2008-09 tourist season was static and we’re planning for another static 2009-10 season.
“But we’re expecting big jump in 2010-11 thanks to exposure overseas and the level of international tourists we expect to see coming back.”
Fellow Kununurra-based outfit, SlingAir Heliwork WA, is of similar belief.
In operation since 1984, SlingAir is now part of the largest privately owned aviation company in Australia, Queensland-based Curry Kenny Aviation, after being bought in April 2008.
Amending tours and adding incentives are part of Alligator’s strategy to counter competition from SlingAir.
“We continuously enhance the experience for our customers, as the competition with SlingAir keeps us on our toes, so we’re constantly upgrading in-flight commentary and other value-adding measures,” Mrs Kendrick says.
Down the coast it seems the current levels of business and future expectations are similar to those in the north.
Broome’s King Leopold Air, which works out of its Chinatown headquarters turning over more than $1 million each year, has grown annually for the past 12 years as the town has expanded, according to its co-owner, Phil Telfer.
“We’ve grown each year, but that has levelled off and 2009 was the same as 2008, which was a bit quieter,” Mr Telfer says.
“And I think it’s going to be steady again this year as there’s only so much accommodation supply and not always that much availability.”
About 30 per cent of Bunbury-based Air Charters West workload is recreational tourism, which includes scenic flights across the South West, including trips to Margaret River, Cape Leeuwin and Rottnest.
Air Charters West director and chief pilot, Malcolm Ashworth, agrees 2010 is likely to be flat like last year but is confident of a return to greater profits in 2011.
“It’s so easy to do the tourism-size work, the charter stuff is more demanding than tourists who just hop in,” he says.
“It’s not the best money but it’s always a cash flow.
“I would rather do a FIFO charter for a few thousand (dollars) than $500 for a tourist, but it’s about meeting people.
“I enjoy people’s company and I always chat with them, it’s good fun.”