Regional aviation in holding pattern

19 November 2015

The State’s regional aviation services have been left in a two year holding pattern as the Minister of Transport last night revealed a short extension for mining charter Skippers Aviation on the Coral Coast route and that no airline has been secured for the Perth-Derby route.

Tourism Council WA CEO Evan Hall said the outcome was not sustainable for the Coral Coast route, servicing Monkey Mia and Carnarvon, which had already seen passenger movements to Monkey Mia collapse by 40 per cent over the past four years.

“Monkey Mia, nestled in the World Heritage Shark Bay, is one of WA’s great international tourism assets - it needs a genuine passenger service,” Mr Hall said.

“Skippers Aviation is a mining charter service that is not bookable by tourists through online travel agents like Expedia.

“To attract tourists we need a real passenger service that is bookable online, boards from the domestic airport and can transfer passengers and luggage from Sydney or Germany to regional WA.”

Mr Hall said that Qantas and Virgin had moved away from small aircraft on low volume regional routes, leaving much of regional Western Australia without a regional passenger transport aviation service suited to tourists and locals.

“We’ve seen Virgin exit Exmouth, then the Albany and Esperance service, and Qantas did not tender either,” he said

“As FIFO and mining traffic declines, regional routes are experiencing smaller volumes and becoming more marginal. Meanwhile airlines are investing in larger aircraft – this does not bode well for regional WA. 

“Regional Western Australia needs something between a mining charter service and a large carrier like Qantas or Virgin.”

With regional populations stable and mining traffic decreasing, the only way to increase passenger traffic and make these routes sustainable is to increase tourism, according to Mr Hall. That requires a real passenger service that can sell seats to tourists flying to regional WA.

“The best opportunity lies with experienced regional aviation carrier Rex entering the other regional routes or Skippers changing their business model to become a real passenger service,” he said

“The State Government has a short period of time to develop a sustainable regional aviation solution. As routes become more marginal, more towns like Derby will lose their aviation service.”

The Department of Transport needs to rebuild a sustainable regional aviation network rather than just manage the current decline route by route.

“Royalties for Regions funding must be part of this solution. There is no point in investing in regional airports which cannot attract and sustain an aviation service. R4R funding should progress from airport infrastructure to developing services through chartering, underwriting and marketing routes until they become large enough to sustain an aviation service,” Mr Hall said.  

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