The northern end of Western Australia is known for being remote, with travel between major towns often meaning a lengthy drive through baron environments.
It takes five and a half hours, for example, to drive from the regional hub of Karratha to the mining town of Newman. This can become costly and driving these long distances does raise concerns for safety.
Those wanting to fly have until now faced the time-consuming and pricey prospect of flying from Karratha south to Perth then back to Newman.
Now an alternative is available thanks to a unique initiative by Aviair with the support of the City of Karratha, Shire of East Pilbara and mining giant Rio Tinto.
In an Australian first, the three supporting organisations have struck a five-year agreement for the regional air service to improve connectivity between centres in the Kimberley and Pilbara.
The flights currently operate between Karratha, Port Hedland, Newman and Broome. Rio Tinto has committed to support the introduction of a further route between Karratha and Paraburdoo to commence in early 2020.
The network is run by leading north-west aviation operator, Aviair, and is serviced by twin-engine, nine-seater Beechcraft B200 Super King Air.
“Once evidence of demand for more seats has been proven, we will look to scale up the size of the aircraft which will in turn, reduce flight prices,” City of Karratha Mayor Peter Long says.
The initial routes see two weekly return services between Karratha and Newman, one weekly Karratha-Port Hedland-Karratha flight and three return flights between Karratha and Broome.
The Karratha-Newman flight continues to Port Hedland, meaning there are also two services a week between Newman and its iron ore port.
“The Pilbara and Kimberley communities have been calling for improved air connections between the regional towns of the north-west, and Aviair is delighted to be in a position to provide this essential service,” Aviair managing director Michael McConachy says.
“The fares are highly competitive with other existing travel options in the region and this has been made possible due to the support of the network sponsors.”
The new inter-regional flight network means that what used to be a three-day trek between Karratha and Newman — a day driving there, a day conducting business and day driving back — can now be done in a single day. “It’s reassuring to know there is a safe and time efficient option to connect our regions by air, eliminating the risk of fatigued driving,” Cr Long says.
Karratha City Council, through its wholly owned airport, has been the driving force behind getting the new service off the ground and had been party to wider discussions through the Pilbara Regional Council.
Other councils were invited to be part of the initial submission put forward by Aviair, although it was the City of Karratha and Shire of East Pilbara who committed to getting the project underway. They agreed to underwrite the service for the first two and a half years as well as waiving some airport fees.
Rio Tinto has shown further support for the Paraburdoo route.
“After a number of years of hard work, this is a great example of progressive regional councils working together with industry partners to achieve a shared vision that benefits the entire region,” Cr Long says.
The council believes the increased connectivity will greatly expand the market base for many businesses within the region and provide an opportunity for them to expand their offerings.
It believes it will also create opportunities for new business and industry that would otherwise be unsustainable in smaller and more constrained markets.
The WA Government is behind the project and is encouraging government employees travelling within the Pilbara and Kimberley to utilise the service where available.
The network has been operating for just under three months and initial signs are promising with a positive public reaction and a regular clientele making use of the service.
By Steve Creedy
About Steve Creedy
An award-winning journalist, Steve began covering aviation in the United States in the early nineties before returning to Australia later that decade and editing The Australian’s aviation section for 17 years. He is editor of Airline Ratings and has co-authored books on industry initiatives aimed at reducing greenhouse emissions.
Steve has joined the AAA to write interesting and informative editorial on the aviation industry.