Plans for an international airline to fly out of Port Hedland appear to have collapsed after several of directors resigned and the website was taken offline. Pilbara Airlines was announced by local businessman and Town of Port Hedland Mayor Peter Carter in March 2019, and was slated to begin flights to South-East Asia in December 2019. The same month, the company began accepting bookings — despite not having any planes — before Mr Carter announced in October the service had been delayed and all bookings refunded. The airline caused controversy in December 2019, when it was announced it would look to move from Port Hedland to Karratha — a move it would backflip on within a year — because of financial incentives offered by the City of Karratha, believed to be about $16 million. With the COVID-19 pandemic hitting in early 2020, doubt was cast over the project’s viability, but Mr Carter remained adamant the company would progress. “While a global pandemic is a bad time to be an existing airline, it’s the best possible time to start one,” he told the North West Telegraph in February 2020. “Planes are being sold cheap and pilots are desperate for jobs — we’re in a really good place moving forward — it’s going to be massive for the town.” His claims were backed up by PA general manager Ed Turner, who in March said despite the aviation industry being in turmoil because of the coronavirus, it would not affect the airline’s timeline to start operations in early 2021. In May 2020 the company said it had reserved five Australian aircraft registration numbers. Mr Turner said the company had obtained its airline designator from the International Air Transport Association and allocated its call sign from the International Civil Aviation Organisation. After announcing his intention to run for mayor in 2020, Mr Carter then vowed to see Port Hedland remain as the base of operations. He said he would push for councillors to offer larger incentives than the City of Karratha to bring it back to Hedland. “I’d hope that even if I don’t get to be mayor, then whoever is elected to the position would do the same,” he said. His comments sparked questions over a potential conflict of interest, with Mr Carter later clarifying he would declare a conflict of interest and recuse himself from any matter concerning the airline. Since then, there has been very little about the company, its progress and when it intends to fly. In October 2021, the company’s website disappeared and Mr Turner last week said the firm was “essentially in caretaker mode”. “One of our largest investors had to pull out due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said. “Since then, we’re essentially in caretaker mode — we’re around $38 million short in funding without the investor. “We can’t really provide an update beyond that. We won’t be doing anything until we can fill that funding gap.” When asked about his role within the airline, Mr Carter said he had resigned from the board “within the last few months”. Mr Carter said his previous comments about the global pandemic being “the best possible time” to start an airline had proved wrong. “I was right in some ways — planes are still cheap and pilots are definitely still looking for jobs,” he said. “But no one could’ve expected borders to remain closed as long as they have. That’s what really sunk the business. “We never planned on domestic travel or to compete with the established airlines, we wanted to provide unique international routes to link the Pilbara with Asia, but with international borders still closed, that’s obviously impossible.” Mr Turner said he did not expect Pilbara Airlines to fly “anytime soon”.