THE State’s leading resources lobby group and some air charter services sought urgent meetings with the Government last week after it signalled a desire to convert resource industry fly-in fly-out charter services to regular passenger transport flights.
The Government’s plan is part of a strategy to ensure the continuity of regional air services, following the receipt of an independent report concluding only one regional WA route could presently sustain competition.
The Government wants to support regional communities and ensure its own funding by proving its air strategies are compatible with National Competition Policy principles.
But the issue has highlighted the tensions associated with keeping mining industry operating costs down and retaining and boosting regional community services, according to Skywest chief executive officer Scott Henderson.
And the situation could get worse before it got better.
Chamber of Minerals and Energy director policy David Parker said the level of service and flexibility the air charters provided to the resources industry would be difficult, if not impossible, to duplicate.
Different operations within the industry had different requirements, Mr Parker said, schedules were closely linked to rostering and other people movements, and at times people needed to be taken off-site quickly.
National Jet Systems general manager business development, Hugh Davin, said National Jet would liaise with the Government and “do whatever’s sensible”.
“There will be places where it will work, and places where it won’t,” he said.
Mr Davin, who has been in the regional air services business for 33 years, said a plan to fly mines people into townsites would have little relevance for a place such as Telfer.
However, National Jet, which services Telfer, already combined such services with regular passen-ger flights in the Northern Territory and to Christmas and Cocos Islands, he said.
And a “vast number” of other regular passenger services to regional areas carried personnel contracted to mining companies.
“So there already is a level of integration,” Mr Davin said.
Last week, Skywest announced it would withdraw regular passenger flights to Laverton from May, because the route was uneconomical.
“Making an announcement like Laverton was devastating,” Mr Henderson said. “Skywest wants to retain its obligations to communities, but also to support the mining industry, which is a major customer.”
Planning and Infrastructure Minister Alannah MacTiernan said the Government had no precise timetable and would work with individual mining companies on a case-by-case basis to determine where changes were both possible and practical.
Previous discussions with the industry had been positive, and the Government’s focus would remain where charter services already flew directly to town airports in regions where regular air services were subsidised.
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