Hear­ing told high air­fares un­fair

Pilbara News - - News - Tom Zaun­mayr

Pil­bara chil­dren are be­ing put at risk on 20-hour bus trips to Perth be­cause par­ents and clubs can­not af­ford to put them on planes to rep­re­sent their re­gion at ma­jor sports and so­cial events.

This was one of many con­cerns raised at a public hear­ing into the cost of air­fares in re­gional WA, which gained agree­ment among a forum of about 50 Pil­bara res­i­dents and the com­mit­tee tasked with hear­ing their views.

Father of six Lee Tat­tam said the North West Reds ju­nior rugby league squad was one of many teams left with no op­tion but to hit the high­way to at­tend re­gional and State meets.

“The cost of flights for this team to go down to Perth to rep­re­sent the North West — to play and have th­ese de­vel­op­ment squads and games — is so high that it is cheaper to hire a bus and drive the 20 hours,” he said. “That is putting our kids at risk. “We are not look­ing for specials every day, we are just look­ing for a fair air­fare set at a stan­dard where the com­mon peo­ple can af­ford to fly.”

Among the is­sues raised was the im­pact high prices were hav­ing on med­i­cal as­sis­tance, in­clud­ing the Pa­tient As­sisted Travel Scheme.

Com­mit­tee chair­woman Jes­sica Shaw said the in­quiry had been told more than $2 mil­lion a year was be­ing spent on PATS ser­vices in the Pil­bara.

Long-term Kar­ratha res­i­dent Shel­ley McEwan said while flight prices had gone up since the boom, the qual­ity of air­craft ser­vic­ing the re­gion had de­clined.

“They are fly­ing very old planes now and I have found the air­lines have no cus­tomer ser­vice at all,” she said.

Other con­cerns raised in­cluded air­lines rais­ing prices over school hol­i­days and the im­pact the prices have on iso­la­tion.

Sev­eral mem­bers of the au­di­ence said the cost of air­fares pre­vented them from see­ing friends and fam­ily, adding to their iso­la­tion in what is al­ready a re­mote cor­ner of the world.

One Roe­bourne res­i­dent was nearly brought to tears as she re­counted her heart­break in only be­ing able to travel to see a friend who had three months to live once be­cause of the cost of air­fares.

Ms Shaw said the in­quiry was told air­port charges only ac­counted for a small pro­por­tion of air­fares. When asked what the crowd be­lieved was a fair price, opin­ion ranged from $100 to $300 each way, with most set­tling on a $400 re­turn fare as ac­cept­able.

City of Kar­ratha Mayor Peter Long said fees and charges at Kar­ratha Air­port were on par with other re­gional des­ti­na­tions.

“There are three fees charged for each com­mer­cial plane that flies into Kar­ratha Air­port: a land­ing fee — which is based on the air­craft weight — pas­sen­ger ser­vice and se­cu­rity fees,” he said.

“For ex­am­ple, based on 2016-17 fig­ures, a Fokker 100 op­er­at­ing at full oc­cu­pancy would be charged $5428.82 at Kar­ratha Air­port, $6171 in Port Hed­land and $6037 in Broome.

“This would in­di­cate that while other air­ports may have lower per tonne fees, their pas­sen­ger ser­vice and se­cu­rity charges are higher than those of Kar­ratha Air­port.”

The City of Kar­ratha made a sub­mis­sion to the in­quiry ad­dress­ing reg­u­la­tion al­low­ing pri­vate air­ports to be built within 100km of ex­ist­ing fa­cil­i­ties, land­ing fees and the lack of a re­gional hub air­port.

Pil­bara MLA Kevin Michel said he was con­fi­dent the in­quiry would re­sult in change.

“We are ask­ing for a fair go so the peo­ple who live in th­ese re­mote com­mu­ni­ties can travel and have some time off,” he said.

Mr Michel said he had tried to bring public fo­rums to Port Hed­land and New­man too, but was told this was not pos­si­ble be­cause of fi­nan­cial con­straints.

Pic­ture: Tom Zaun­mayr

A full house at Kar­ratha's public hear­ing into the cost of air­fares in re­gional WA.

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