An aviation expert says two councils in regional Western Australia would need to spend millions of dollars to underwrite a potential air link between Kalgoorlie-Boulder and Busselton – and even then, he is “not confident it could fly”.
- The City of Kalgoorlie-Boulder and the City of Busselton are investigating the viability of direct flights between the regional cities
- A direct flight from Kalgoorlie-Boulder to Busselton would cover around 665 kilometres
- Aviation expert Geoffrey Thomas says the route would need to be heavily subsidised and require significant incentives to attract an airline
A report tabled at the City of Kalgoorlie-Boulder’s council meeting this week identified Busselton as a potential intra-state route for Kalgoorlie-Boulder Airport, opening up the South West to the Goldfields.
The report said discussions with Busselton Airport and Tourism WA were continuing, with plans to conduct commercial viability studies before exploring market options.
City of Busselton Mayor Grant Henley said the route would benefit both regions and was not the only one being investigated by his council.
“There is a lot of workers that come from the South West region that work in the Goldfields,” Mayor Henley said.
“It could benefit them transiting through Busselton rather than having to go through Perth but also for those in the Goldfields to come and holiday and work in the South West.
“We’re also examining a number of opportunities both into the Pilbara and the Kimberley.
Kalgoorlie-Boulder Visitor Centre manager Fadzai Mudau said the prospect of direct flights could boost tourism.
“I think it’s a good idea, we’ll get some more numbers from down south,” she said.
Despite that optimism for it, Kalgoorlie-Boulder Mayor John Bowler has poured cold water on the plan, saying it was unlikely to be viable.
“I wouldn’t ever stand in its way and would support it,” he said.
“There’s no reason why you’d try and stop it, but if it happens Jarrod [ABC reporter Jarrod Lucas] you’re probably going to get the lotto numbers in advance.
It comes as passenger numbers at Kalgoorlie-Boulder Airport continue to rebound, with airport management also in discussions with airlines about the return of an eastern-states link to Melbourne.
Passenger numbers at Kalgoorlie-Boulder Airport have stabilised around 80 per cent of pre-COVID levels.
New figures show 241,149 passed through the Ron Yuryevich Terminal last financial year, which is down from a record 305,102 two years ago.
Between March and the end of June, there was another resurgence with passenger movements up 140 per cent, compared with the first eight months of the financial year.
Geoffrey Thomas, editor-in-chief at Airline Ratings and aviation editor at The West Australian newspaper, said direct flights between regional centres in WA were rare.
He said both councils would need to offer significant incentives to underwrite the service and while he declined to put an exact figure on how much it could cost, he suggested it would be millions of dollars.
“There’s certainly potential,” he said.
“There are quite a number of fly-in, fly-out workers living in the South West, in and around Busselton, and there are regular charters from there up to various mine sites organised by mining companies.
“It’s a matter of how much incentive is required.
Mr Thomas said the regional link would be unlikely to interest Qantas and Virgin Australia.
He pointed to Jetstar, which has delayed the launch of a long-awaited Melbourne to Busselton service due to the pandemic, or Regional Express as potential suitors.
REX flies turboprop aircraft to Esperance, Albany, Carnarvon and Monkey Mia in WA, which are all routes regulated by the State Government.
“It would be a tourism opportunity for people from the Kalgoorlie region to go to the coast at Busselton, a lovely part of the world, but is it going to be a Qantas-type operation or Virgin or Jetstar, I don’t think so,” Mr Thomas said.