Busselton to Pilbara flights on radar

Image supplied.
Image supplied.

More direct flights to take fly-in-fly-out workers from Busselton to the Pilbara is on the radar as the City of Busselton explore options to expand flight offerings out of the Busselton Margaret River Airport.

The city are seeking additional FIFO services to operate between Busselton and the North West and are in discussions with the City of Karratha and resource companies including Rio Tinto.

Rio Tinto is the region's largest employer, employing more than 800 people, and flying workers in-and-out of Busselton up to nine times a week.

The mining company recently advertised a number of job vacancies for experienced miners living in the South West to work on sites in WA's North.

In 2016, Rio Tinto’s regional WA FIFO workforce was estimated to have generated a total spend of $424.5 million with a flow on economic impact of $184.7 million, creating almost 1,250 jobs.

City of Busselton mayor Grant Henley said that regular passenger air transport between the South West and North West had the potential to impact positively on both regional economies.

Mr Henley said the flights would also ease the travel burden on more FIFO workers, their families and appeal to tourists.

“FIFO demand extends beyond the resource sector and this arrangement could provide enormous employment benefits for people in the South West and a welcome pool of employees in the North West,” he said.

“Many industries in the state’s North West rely on FIFO employees and a significant number of people are already travelling to the region from the South West to work in the medical sector, retail and service sectors as well as the resources sector.

“There isn’t a logical reason why these people should have to take a flight to the Pilbara from Perth when the Busselton Margaret River Airport has the capacity to accommodate extra flights."

Mr Henley said for this to be viable they would need buy-in from resource companies utilising the airport, such as Rio Tinto which had been supportive of discussions at North West Regional Council meetings.

Rio Tinto iron ore general manager Linda Dawson said Rio Tinto had a long history of supporting economic development in the Pilbara and regional WA.

“For Rio Tinto, we believe it is important to contribute to the communities where we operate and our workforce in the South West have established deep connections to the region,” she said. 

“It is great to see the City of Karratha and City of Busselton exploring initiatives like this to deliver positive outcomes for both the Pilbara and the South West.”

City of Karratha chief executive officer Chris Adams said workforce demand was increasing in the Pilbara with a number of major projects coming online in the near future.

Mr Adams said Karratha was poised for a significant uplift in economic activity and workforce demand across all sectors was expected to increase.

"While we are seeing more people choosing to move to Karratha for its attractive lifestyle and employment opportunities," he said.

"We understand the important need to accommodate workers from outside the region. Our goal in pursuing this opportunity is to make the system more efficient and user-friendly for those involved.”​

Members of the Chamber of Minerals and Energy’s North West Regional Council were agreeable to hearing about inter-regional flights at its next meeting.