20/02/2013 - 00:31

Rio’s $6m keeps RFDS jet in the air

20/02/2013 - 00:31

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Rio’s $6m keeps RFDS jet in the air
FLIGHT PACKAGE: RFDS CEO Grahame Marshall (left) and Rio Tinto vice president organisation resources Kevin Lewis at the Rio Tinto Life Flight jet. Photo: Bohdan Warchomij

MINING giant Rio Tinto has signed up with the Royal Flying Doctor Service for a further four years to sponsor the Life Flight aero medical jet.

The new, $6 million agreement further strengthens the two organisation’s relationship, which was given a boost in October 2009 when the Rio Tinto Life Flight jet was launched.

Rio’s president of Pilbara operations, Greg Lilleyman, said the $6 million agreement brought the company’s total amount of funding support for the RFDS to $11 million.

He insists the funding package is not a sponsorship, or a gift, or even a donation, but a partnership between two like-minded companies.

RFDS chief executive officer Grahame Marshall agrees the relationship is much more than merely a financial one.

“It’s not just about putting money into a jet that benefits everybody,” Mr Marshall told WA Business News.

“It’s really about the community spirit going between two organisations that operate in remote areas and have a similar commitment to communities and good outcomes for WA”.

Mr Marshall said the RFDS welcomed Rio Tinto’s continued support and its recognition of the value of the jet.

“The black and white of it is, if they took their partnership away, the jet wouldn’t be operating,” he said.

Mr Marshall said the introduction of the jet had enabled the RFDS to better meet the increasing demand for its services across a greater area of Western Australia.

Demand for services was growing at 8 per cent per year; a much higher rate than any other state.

Since its first flight in October

2009, the Life Flight has flown 2,115 hours and evacuated 867 patients.

It is capable of transporting two patients at a time and flying from one end of the state to the other in about three hours.

The other aircraft in the Royal Flying Doctor Service fleet take twice that time to travel the same distance and also need to stop to refuel.

The jet proved its value in 2011 when a dense cloud of ash from a South American volcano eruption contaminated the skies, consequently grounding all aircraft in WA.

The Life Flight jet, however, was able to fly beneath the ash and transport baby Bronwyn Bevan to the east coast for emergency heart surgery that could only be performed in Melbourne.

In its pitch for the program to be continued beyond the initial three-year phase, the RFDS presented its business case to the Rio Tinto Future Fund board, reporting not only the success of the jet but also how the miner could further benefit from their relationship.

Mr Lilleyman said Rio Tinto often discussed the issue of community involvement with its employees, many who live in remote areas and witness first-hand the deficiencies in regional health systems.

He said Rio Tinto’s employees in WA had voiced a strong desire to support the Royal Flying Doctor and that many had a personal connection to the service.

“People shouldn’t be disadvantaged for living and working in remote areas,” Mr Lilleyman said.

 

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