Port Hedland International Airport and its team have picked up two prestigious awards at the Australia Airports Association National Industry Awards, including being named Australia’s best regional airport. The airport won the Large Regional Airport of the Year award for its whopping $32 million terminal expansion project, which opened on September 22, as well as record-breaking passenger numbers off the back of a return of the Brisbane-Port Hedland direct route. The recognition didn’t stop there, with the newly-minted Head of Airport Hayley Vale receiving the Emerging Airport Leader Award for her dedication to the terminal redevelopment project. Speaking on the achievements of the airport, AAA national chair Kym Meys said the projects and individuals recognised were a testament to Australia’s airport sector moving forward with new innovations. “Through the early establishment of an aviation development taskforce and a new repositioning statement, coupled with cutting-edge and thoughtful terminal design, PHIA serves community and business needs while also positioning itself to support Port Hedland’s expected population doubling during the next two decades,” she said. Having achieved many of the goals first touted when starting as the airport’s chief in March last year, there remains one announcement the whole North West has been waiting for — the return of weekly Bali flights. Speaking to the North West Telegraph in August, Port Hedland International Airport CEO Dave Batic said he hoped to make that announcement soon. “We are hoping to make an announcement before Christmas with Bali, we are just waiting on a response from the Federal Minister from the Department of Home Affairs,” he said. “We have two airlines that are very eager to commence but they are just unable to negotiate with Australian Border Force at this stage.” Mr Batic could not reveal the names of the two airlines but he said they were “Indonesian-based”. As Broome International Airport no longer offers a Singapore connection, flights between Port Hedland and Bali would provide the only direct international route to North West WA. Mr Batic urged the State Government to provide more support to the PHIA so Hedland tourism could continue to grow. “Unfortunately, we are not getting support from the West Australian Government because they don’t see Port Hedland as a tourism destination, they see Port Hedland as an outbound tourism location,” he said. “I’ve been very vocal in the fact that we don’t get support but other airports down south do.” In response to Mr Batic’s August comments, A WA Government spokesperson said they were continually looking to improve tourism in Port Hedland. “Our government continues to explore opportunities to showcase the unique experiences Port Hedland offers tourists,” they said. “Tourism WA has a dedicated tourism experience development manager based in the region to grow and develop experiences in and around national parks across Australia’s North West — including Port Hedland, as a key gateway to the Pilbara.” Mr Batic said the reintroduction of Bali flights was important to the Port Hedland community. “Pre-COVID that service existed for over 30 years,” he said. “It’s a staple part of Port Hedland and the broader Pilbara. “And we know that there are a lot of Pilbara workers who reside in Bali so we really need to get that connectivity back not just for the residents over there but to generate tourism.” And despite the perceived lack of support from the State Government, the Town of Port Hedland — one of the richest local governments in the country — has endorsed the provision of payments to incentivise commercial carriers to start the weekly route. The Town signed an Upside Sharing Deed with PHIA in 2016, which is a profit-sharing agreement that provides funding to the Town when passenger numbers exceed a baseline figure. In August, the Town agreed to use some of the money from that deed in the current partnership to help return the Bali and Brisbane flights. Mayor Peter Carter said the Town was committed to supporting services that improved liveability and made Hedland a more attractive place to work and live. Mr Batic said the financial support from the Town was a first for Port Hedland and would have a positive impact on negotiations with airlines.