24/02/2011 - 00:00

Skippers hits turbulence

24/02/2011 - 00:00

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Next week’s changeover in air service operator for the Gascoyne region remains a sore point for local businesses, which believe the state government’s decision was made in haste.

Skippers hits turbulence

Next week’s changeover in air service operator for the Gascoyne region remains a sore point for local businesses, which believe the state government’s decision was made in haste.

On Monday, Skippers Aviation will take over the regional monopoly from Skywest, which has been operating the service for the past five years.

Skippers will have more than 12 flights from Perth to Carnarvon, two of which will stop over in Geraldton, and four circuit flights a week from the state’s capital to Monkey Mia and Kalbarri and back to the city.

That replaces Skywest’s scheduled flights from Perth, which have included a daily service to Carnarvon as well as three times a week each to Kalbarri and Monkey Mia.

The change has caused much angst among the business community and tourism operators, who claim they won’t be receiving the same level as service from Skippers as they have grown accustomed to from Skywest.

The complaints are across a range of issues but largely focus on the fact that Skippers’ focus has been on servicing the mining community through charter operations and scheduled flights to predominantly resources towns in the northern Goldfields.

Skippers management disputes many of the claims made by local businesses and believes the issue has been blown out of proportion, perhaps due to other difficulties the tourism sector faced.

Carnarvon Chamber of Commerce & Industry president Tony Beard has highlighted a range of issues, including Skippers lacking a global distribution system, the size of its aircraft and the location of its Perth terminal, as problems that will set the area’s development back.

Mr Beard said he had been frustrated by the lack of response to his concerns by the government.

“The reality is we are going to get Skippers,” he said.

“What we want is a paper trail to make sure that when a review takes place it is a transparent process.

“We want these guys to deliver what they say they will deliver.”

Edge Resorts principal Jon Jessop said decisions like the air service change were pushing groups like his away from regional tourism despite having invested more than $40 million in the WA sector, including a resort in Kalbarri.

“We can, quite frankly, say our last two major investments have not been in tourism,” Mr Jessop said.

He said the loss of even 5 per cent of tourists from packages or online bookings had a big impact.

Skippers CEO Stan Quinlivan said the complaints were ill-founded and that business in the Gascoyne area would be pleasantly surprised by the service they received as he intended to grow traffic in the area.

Mr Quinlivan said he had reluctantly submitted a bid to service the region after the Department of Transport reopened tenders.

He rejected complaints about the size of the aircraft and said many of the flights would be serviced by bigger, more modern planes than the ones that Skywest had used, and some services would be more frequent even if smaller planes were used.

Mr Quinlivan said that, from the passenger numbers he had seen, air traffic had not increased since Skippers last operated there in 2004 and the numbers of tourists travelling to these areas were tiny.

He also said Skippers was working on a global distribution system to help tourists book flights easily.

The Skippers boss also rejected the issue around the terminal location, noting that the move by Skywest to the new Terminal WA next year would have separated it from the Qantas terminal, which remains at its current site.

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