AIRPORT HITSOUT AT HIGHFLIGHT FARES

Glenn Cordingley and Alexander ScottNorth West Telegraph
At this stage, Qantas services to and from Port Hedland airport will remain the same. The airline has announced cuts to services to and from Karratha airport.
Camera IconAt this stage, Qantas services to and from Port Hedland airport will remain the same. The airline has announced cuts to services to and from Karratha airport. Credit: Mitchell Smith

Port Hedland International Airport has defended its passenger charges, saying reductions in airfares are not conditional on the airport trimming its own fees to the flying public.

It comes as the Australian Airports Association calls for an end to airline secrecy on high regional airfares.

AAA chief executive Caroline Wilkie said a deeper look into how domestic airfares were set was urgently needed to bring an end to the “regional airfare rip-off”.

An investigation by the North West Telegraph shows airport charges were about $76 for return fares to Port Hedland from anywhere in Australia. In comparison, they were about $72 at Kimberley tourist gateway Broome International Airport, almost 600km north of the Pilbara town.

PHIA has responded to recent comments from Qantas domestic chief executive Andrew David in which he welcomed a decision by the Shire of East Pilbara to reduce fees at Newman Airport, which he said contributed to further discounts under the carrier’s resident fare program.

But PHIA general manager Rod Evans said the airport had no ability to influence airfares charged by the airlines that flew to and from the destination. “As a predominantly fly-in, fly-out market, providing affordable airfares to local residents hasn’t been a priority for airlines,” he said.

“While it is encouraging that they are finally appearing to do something about their exceptionally high airfares, making fare reductions conditional on reductions in airport charges is incredibly cynical.” Mr Evans said in the context of operating a full-service regional airport with very low passenger throughput in a region with very high input costs, PHIA charges were more than reasonable and benchmarked against other airports.

“Airport fees are held constant throughout the year and PHIA certainly does not take advantage of residents when they’re at their most vulnerable,” he said.

Since March, 2016, charges at PHIA have increased three times to account for inflation.

Recent Federal and State inquiries into the high costs of regional airfares have both indicated airport charges were low in comparison to actual ticket costs.

PHIA is operated by a private consortium of investors under a 50-year lease granted by the Town of Port Hedland in 2016.

Under the lease terms, the ToPH received an upfront cash payment of $165 million and a commitment from the consortium to invest a further $40 million in airport infrastructure by 2021.

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