There are currently seven airlines operating intrastate services from PER to points throughout Western Australia.
Qantas, for example, has 25 Bombardier Q400s, 16 Q300s and five Q200s in service alone. The existing B717 Qantas fleet is 11 aircraft with three more Q400s and another two B717s to be added in the near future. Qantas uses this fleet on more than 2,000 flights a week to 54 destinations in Western Australia.
Several other airlines combine FIFO contracts with their regional services. For example, Skywest Airlines; Skippers Aviation; Alliance Airlines; and Maroomba Airlines are established names that have been around and grown with the natural resources boom.
In a couple of cases, these airlines helped create the boom providing survey and aerial services that brought in the exploration infrastructure to determine the extent of the area’s buried treasure.
Meanwhile, smaller airlines and air charter companies have long-term contracts with the mining industry, operating mixed fleets carrying 70-100 passengers with the range they need given the distances involved. Fokker 100s, 70s and 50s, for example, are well represented, and ATR 72s, the Bombardier Dash 8 series and Embraer Brasilia are all also about the right specifications.
All these airlines and charter companies require ground services at PER, which makes for a very busy operation. Currently, most of the FIFO carriers operate from a cluster of small satellite terminals around the airport.
Perth has an exceptional amount of vehicle traffic on the airside. It is a large site that requires the ground service operators to travel to and from the Domestic and International terminals located miles apart and on opposite sides of the operational runways and taxiway system to a separate GA base, maintenance area and regional charter apron where most of the FIFO activity happens.
Traffic management is a real issue. With long days, sunrise and sunset are subject to extreme visual glare for the drivers and pilots. Driving into the sun accounts for the majority of near misses and incidents where situational awareness is compromised due to the angle of the sun.
There are four live taxiway crossings involved, which makes driver training a particularly important issue. Mixing aircraft and moving ground equipment is never ideal. Add to that equation, pedestrian passengers on the apron. Aerobridges work well on larger aircraft, but with the number of commuter aircraft involved, the streams of passengers making it to and from the terminals keep the workforce on high alert.
Airport Safety Manager Darren McKenzie and staff juggle the safety operations. McKenzie knows the problems and has the respect of the ground service operators, airlines and other service providers to make decisions and create a safe environment.
“I know it comes down to individual tasks,” McKenzie says, “but the more connected everyone is on, say, a turnaround the better. If you know that it is essential that the caterers, for example, can get through and park at the aircraft door or that the fuel supplier has room to safely lay out a hose, then there is less stress on the apron. It comes down to communications and having the knowledge and the awareness of what the other team members are all about.”
Plans are under way, however, to consolidate the whole regional and FIFO operations into a new dedicated terminal with its own ground support service facility. Just last August, PER broke ground on a new $120 million Australian dollar ($117 million) terminal designed to meet the needs of air services for Western Australia, particularly for the natural resources sector.
The new terminal will have the space to cater to up to 36 aircraft and include more check-in counters, a larger security screening zone, access to 14 gates via covered walkways and easier access to parking and transportation for arriving and departing passengers.
This development should make life a whole lot simpler for the ground support staff.
Construction of the new terminal is the first part of a $700 million Australian dollar ($684 million) expansion for PER. The first stage of the redevelopment will also include the following: