'Fly In/Fly Out' Service Fuels Perth Airport

Global demand for Western Australia’s mineral and energy deposits puts the airport in the right spot to cater to regional aviation.


To better understand the Perth Airport (PER), a geography lesson is in order: PER is located 12 kilometers (7 miles) outside its namesake city, the capital of the state of Western Australia, which occupies a third of the Australian continent. It’s the country’s largest state covering 2.6 million square kilometers (1 million square miles), but only about 10 percent of the country’s population lives there with 85 percent of these folks clustered in the southwest corner of the state.

Like most airports, traffic figures and development closely track the local economy. PER is a textbook example. PER currently handles 11.5 million passengers a year – double the number of passengers over the past six years. Its recent annual growth rate of passenger traffic has made it the fastest-growing capital city airport in the country.

How to explain the growth? Under all that sparsely populated land are some the planet’s richest caches of mineral and energy deposits.

The airport is the commercial hub for this natural resources sector that drives the whole Australian dynamic. In turn, these resources also help fuel the Chinese and Indian manufacturing spectacular.

All that business excitement has filled the International Terminal with a steady flow of premium passengers heading to do their deals, link into the financial growth and report on investments. Airlines such as Emirates; Qatar Airways; Royal Brunei Airlines; and China Eastern Airlines are lined up at international gates with Qantas, South African Airways, Singapore Airlines, Thai Airways International and Malaysia Airlines.

Meanwhile, Jetstar, the Qantas low-cost subsidiary, is also gearing up to win a slice of the traffic in both the international and domestic markets.

REGIONAL POWERHOUSE

But the more interesting story is how the aviation industry has stepped up to supply manpower, provisions and equipment to remote mining sites and ports throughout Western Australia.

What’s referred to in Australia as “fly in/fly out” (FIFO) is big business for PER. FIFO workers typically “fly in” to a work site for a long shift of five or 10 days and, then, “fly out” back to their homes and families for rest and relaxation before doing it over again.

PER’s most current 12-month total for domestic passenger traffic is 8.2 million compared to 3.6 million at the turn of the century. That number includes more than FIFO passengers, but around 60 percent of all aircraft movements through PER to and from destinations within Australia are to Western Australia. Just under half of these are scheduled flights and the remainder are charter and general aviation flights.

It’s hard to imagine how the country’s natural resources sector could have been fully developed without aviation service from PER:

  • Approximately three-quarters of all PER’s “intrastate” passenger movements are related to the natural resources sector. Intrastate aviation encompasses airline and general aviation activities within a state or territory.
  • The number of intrastate passengers using PER during the past five years has jumped by 90 percent.
  • The Perth-Karratha route is PER’s fourth busiest, with as many as 10 flights each day. (Karratha is a major source of iron ore and the site of the country’s biggest natural gas operation.)
  • PER now acts as a base for flights to more than 54 regional ports directly related to the natural resources sector across Western Australia.
  • BHP Billiton, considered the world’s largest mining company, and The Rio Tinto Group, a multinational mining and natural resources excavator, both have established training sites and other administrative functions directly at PER. Other natural resources sector companies are expected to follow suit.

PER is clearly the region’s go-to hub for FIFO. Although most of the workforce is based in Perth, with a population of 1.7 million people, an increasing percentage of skilled trades and service providers come in by air from other parts of the country on regular domestic flights and then transfer to FIFO flights. These flights are not short transfers; they are long, slow sectors of up to 1,000 kilometers (621 miles) up the West Coast or inland.

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