WA regulated airline routes report 2015

VH-FNJ Fokker 100 (MSN 11489) of Virgin Australia Regional Airlines, named “Talbot Bay” at Perth Airport – Tue 17 March 2015. Taxying in at the far end of runway 21 at 12.02pm, after an aborted takeoff. Photo © Steve Jaksic
VH-FNJ Fokker 100 (MSN 11489) of Virgin Australia Regional Airlines, named “Talbot Bay” at Perth Airport – Tue 17 March 2015.
Photo © Steve Jaksic

20 July 2015 copyright © David Eyre

The Western Australian Department of Transport published its 2015 report Review of Regulated Regular Public Transport Air Routes in Western Australia.

The report outlines the Government’s approach to intrastate RPT airline services on the eight regulated routes within the WA beyond 2016. Skippers Aviation, QantasLink and Virgin Australia Regional Airlines (VARA, which acquired Skywest Airlines) have been operating on the protected air routes in WA since the last review in 2011, and the new arrangements are due to commence from 27 February 2016.

Key decisions in this review were the decisions to open the Perth to Learmonth route to competition, and to cease RPT service between Perth and Leinster.

The Government prefers to avoid regulated routes where possible, to foster competition and reduced airfares, but some routes are marginal in terms of passengers numbers and economics. Generally, routes need a minimum of 100,000 passengers to sustain a two-airline operation. Most routes in WA have operated without government subsidies.

The report notes that without the demand generated by the resources industry, many regional towns in WA would not have an RPT service. The Government has a charter policy, which is designed to place certain restrictions on FIFO charter flights to ensure that they do not affect the viability of RPT air services. High airfares and security screening costs at regional airports also affect intrastate services.

2015 Review of Regulated RPT Routes

1. Perth–Learmonth (Exmouth)

Busiest of the regulated routes, with about 90,000 passengers. It was partially deregulated in 2011. Currently served by Qantas Group, using Boeing 717s of QantasLink and Fokker 100s of Network Aviation. The Government will open the route to competition, allowing other airlines to operate on the route.

2. Perth–Albany

Second busiest regulated route, with 60,000 passengers, mainly from the corporate market. Passenger volumes are insufficient for two operators. Currently operated by Virgin Australia Regional Airlines, using Fokker 50 turboprop aircraft. The report noted concerns that airfares are high and inhibit growth, and suggests tourism strategies be developed. The route will be put up for tender to choose an operator that best meets community needs and commits to developing the route. The contract will be awarded to a single operator for 5 years from 27 February 2016.

3. Perth–Esperance

Third busiest regulated route, with 48,000 passengers, mainly from the corporate market. Passenger volumes are insufficient for two operators. Currently operated by Virgin Australia Regional Airlines, using Fokker 50 turboprop aircraft. The route also suffers high airfares that inhibit growth and tourism strategies are recommended. The route will be put up for tender to choose an operator that best meets community needs and commits to developing the route. The contract will be awarded to a single operator for 5 years from 27 February 2016.

4. Perth–Derby (RAAF Base Curtin)

With approximately 42,000 passengers, passenger volumes are insufficient for two operators. Currently operated by Virgin Australia Regional Airlines, using Fokker 100 jets. The route is dependent upon mining companies operating in the region, so a recent reduction in mining has caused reduced passenger volumes, service frequency and the size of aircraft used. The route will be put up for tender in 2015, to choose an operator that best meets community needs. The contract will be awarded to a single operator for 5 years from 27 February 2016.

5. Perth–Monkey Mia (Shark Bay)–Carnarvon

With 25,000 passengers per year to Carnarvon, this route can only support one operator. The Perth-Monkey Mia (Shark Bay) route is dependent upon tourism and had declined to only 3,600 passengers in 2013/14, which makes it barely viable for one operator, so it is at risk. Currently operated by Skippers Aviation Perth-Monkey Mia (Shark Bay)-Carnarvon-Perth, using Bombardier Dash 8-100 and Embraer 120 Brasilia turboprop aircraft. Continued regulation of both routes is required to prevent a cessation of air services. Larger aircraft above 20,000kg cannot be used on these routes as there are no security screening facilities at Carnarvon or Monkey Mia (Shark Bay) and upgrading security imposes substantial costs. The route will be put up for tender in 2015, to choose an operator that best meets community needs and commits to developing the route. The contract will be awarded to a single operator for 5 years from 27 February 2016. The routes may be either kept as Perth-Monkey Mia (Shark Bay)-Carnarvon-Perth, or separated as Perth-Monkey Mia and Perth-Carnarvon.

Northern Goldfields routes:
6. Perth–Wiluna–Leinster;
7. Perth–Laverton–Leonora; and
8. Perth–Mount Magnet–Meekatharra

These routes are marginal, with a total of 20,600 passengers across all three during 2013-14. They are heavily dependent upon the resources industry, and fluctuations in the industry cause variations in passenger numbers which are difficult to predict. A recent downturn in mining has decreased passenger numbers and means that even if the routes regulated, air services are at risk of cessation. Currently operated by Skippers Aviation using Dash 8-100 and Embraer 120 Brasilia aircraft. Airlines have expressed limited interest in providing RPT services, but the routes will be put up for tender, with the contract to be awarded to a single operator for 5 years from 27 February 2016. New route pairings will be considered, in order to ensure their ongoing viability. Leinster is only exists for the mining operations of BHP Billiton and its population can access frequent BHP FIFO charter flights, so RPT services to Leinster will cease from 27 February 2016.

WA regulated air routes 2015.  (WA Department of Transport)
WA regulated air routes 2015.
(WA Department of Transport)

David Eyre

President, Aviation Association of WA Inc

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