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Skywest, Skippers given air time

THE future of regional air services in Western Australia has become clearer with the State Government selecting preferred applicants for exclusive licences to operate regulated non-jet routes.Planning and Infrastructure Minister Alannah MacTiernan has announced that local airlines Skywest Airlines and Skippers Aviation will operate regulated services divided into coastal and northern Goldfields networks for an initial period of three years from December.“The decision to regulate the non-jet airports was necessary to ensure economically viable and sustainable air services,” Ms MacTiernan said.The licences also contain an option of a further two-year extension.Skywest will operate the coastal network, consisting of flights from Perth to Albany, Canarvon, Esperance, Exmouth, Geraldton, Kalbarri and Shark Bay. Skywest services will be established at the tourism towns of Kalbarri and Shark Bay, with increased numbers of flights on the other routes, where the airline already has a presence.Skywest chairman Jeff Chatfield said the airline would increase the number of flights to Geraldton by three a week, under the new licence.“What this does, is gives us a solid base for growth,” he said.Mr Chatfield said the airline’s track record had been a significant factor in its award of the coastal tender.“We’ve demonstrated a certain capacity already,” he said.The northern Goldfields network, to be operated by Skippers, includes routes from Perth to Leonora, Leinster, Laverton, Wiluna, Meekatharra and Mt Magnet, with limited access to Geraldton. Skippers will initiate new services to Mt Magnet, Leonora and Leinster, in addition to increasing services at the other destinations.Skippers chief executive Rob Swann said the announcement was a mixed outcome from his airline’s point of view.“We’re disappointed that the process did not make it possible for us to be able to continue to service those destinations such as Kalbarri and Monkey Mia, which we have spent a lot of energy and resources developing,” he said.“We are, however, looking forward to having a more focused strategy which is more aligned with our core business – servicing the mining industry and adding value to the communities and businesses which support it.” Industry observers hope the new regulated networks will bring stability to the industry, which has undergone turbulent times following the collapse of Ansett in 2001.Development of the regional networks was undertaken in consultation with stakeholders, including the Chamber of Minerals and Energy and the Tourism Council of WA, to ensure that services continue within acceptable stan-dards, to be reviewed regularly.As well, Ms MacTiernan will have the power to enforce the level

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