Tale of two cities & just one airline

Sam JonesNorth West Telegraph
Pilbara Airlines founder and Port Hedland mayoral candidate Peter Carter.
Camera IconPilbara Airlines founder and Port Hedland mayoral candidate Peter Carter.

A newly established airline in the Pilbara hoping to secure permanent direct international flights to Asian locations is again considering running its potential service from Port Hedland, less than one year after putting the town on the backburner for Karratha.

Pilbara Airlines is aiming to run commercial passenger flights from the Northern region to overseas destinations including Vietnam, Singapore and Philippines.

The company began taking bookings for direct routes from Port Hedland International Airport to three Asian cities that were scheduled late last year, but were later canned and refunded.

Just months after its scrapped trial, it announced intentions to shift its operations 240km away to Karratha off the back of a major financial incentive offered by the City of Karratha, believed to be about $16 million.

However, in a statement made to the North West Telegraph, PA founder Peter Carter said he would do everything in his power to bring the airline back to Hedland.

“I’ve always wanted the airline based in Hedland — unfortunately I don’t have majority control of the company,” he said.

The ex-councillor, who is now officially running for Town of Port Hedland mayor this year, said he would push for elected members 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.

Mr Carter would have to declare a conflict of interest for any matter concerning the airline if he were to return to council.

PA general manager Ed Turner said there was “strong commercial reasons” for the airline to consider using Karratha as its primary base; however, he was adamant a decision had not been made yet.

“We won’t be making the final decision on our base of operations until February of next year — until then we’re open to any suggestions and an offer from the Town of Port Hedland is certainly something we’re prepared to entertain,” he said.

“It was our initial base, so we’ve done all the calculations.”

Town of Port Hedland commissioner Fred Riebeling said he would be disappointed to see whoever was elected to council in the October local government election offer more than the City of Karratha had put up.

“We put an offer to the airline twelve months ago, it was a significant amount but the City of Karratha was prepared to spend more to get it there,” he said.

“I don’t think offering more than has already been on the table would be in the best interest of the rate-payers in Hedland.

“It’s not as if this is an established viable business we’re talking about — it’s a start-up, which brings significant risk when you’re talking about such a large chunk of money.”

A City of Karratha spokeswoman said the City remained committed to facilitating the provision of international flights to and from Karratha Airport.

“The City is in discussions with various airlines and regulatory authorities regarding potential opportunities for international air services,” she said.

“Pilbara Airlines has indicated its interest in establishing its proposed operations at Karratha Airport, however discussions are in the very early stages and no formal proposal or binding commitment has been made at this time.”

It is understood PA would initially fly two Airbus A320 planes, which have a capacity of 142 economy and 12 business-class seats.

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