COVID, cyclone Seroja grounds dream of direct flights between Kalbarri and Perth

Phoebe PinGeraldton Guardian
A study has found it is not feasible to reinstate direct flights between Perth and Kalbarri.
Camera IconA study has found it is not feasible to reinstate direct flights between Perth and Kalbarri. Credit: Matt Jelonek/The West Australian

Dreams of a direct flight between Perth and Kalbarri have been put on ice, with a WA tourism firm finding the impact of cyclone Seroja combined with fluctuating visitor numbers into the region would result in little demand for the service.

The Shire of Northampton engaged consulting firm Icon Tourism last April to hold a pre-feasibility study to assess the potential for regular public transport flights between Perth and Kalbarri.

Kalbarri Airport opened in 2001 and was serviced by four flights a week on the Perth to Geraldton-Carnarvon route until 2011.

The aircraft used on the route could seat up to 40 people, but seat availability to Kalbarri was frequently limited and sometimes not available. Passenger numbers into Kalbarri declined from 2007 and the service was terminated.

In a report being presented to the council on Friday, Icon Tourism’s Manny Papadoulis says the reinstatement of a Perth to Kalbarri route will not be feasible for at least the next five years.

While he recognised there was a “strong desire within the community, local tourism operators and businesses” for new flight route, Mr Papadoulis said Kalbarri’s small population and close proximity to Geraldton Airport indicated the outbound market from Kalbarri would not be large enough to sustain the service.

He said Kalbarri lost much of its holiday accommodation in cyclone Seroja and expected it would take “some years” before the town could house the same number of visitors as before the disaster.

Even if the region did experience an influx of visitors, Mr Papadoulis said tourism alone would not be enough to sustain flights to Perth from Kalbarri Airport.

“Qantas has stated quite clearly that if Exmouth did not have the resource industry, then there would be no regular public transport services in Exmouth,” he said.

Airlines interviewed for the study said they would not provide flights between Perth and Kalbarri any time soon unless the service was substantially subsidised by the State Government or the shire.

Mr Papadoulis suggested the council set up a working group to start the process of attracting the government funding needed to set up the service.

But Shire of Northampton chief executive Garry Keeffe said efforts to progress a business case for the flight service now may be “fruitless” given the uncertainty around how COVID will continue to affect tourism.

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