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Glenn Cordingley and Jakeb WaddellBroome Advertiser
A CHC helicopter at the existing Djarindjin Airport.
Camera IconA CHC helicopter at the existing Djarindjin Airport. Credit: Jakeb Waddell

A plan to build a fourth major airport in the West Kimberley that would completely relocate all oil and gas helicopters from Broome has triggered warnings such a project would devastate the local economy and send airfares soaring.

A confidential proposal obtained by the Broome Advertiser details construction of a $65 million airport and accommodation block through a partnership between global helicopter company CHC and the Djarindjin Aboriginal Corporation.

They want to build an airport with a 2300m x 45m runway capable of taking Boeing 737-800 aircraft direct from Perth within the next three years near the existing Djaragjin Airport on the Dampier Peninsula, 180km north of Broome.

The document states the Federal Northern Australia Infrastructure Fund is willing to lend 70 per cent of the projected cost, with the remaining $19.5 million coming from “external sources”.

Shell Australia and Inpex have been using the heliport at Broome International Airport for the past 10 years for crew transfers to the offshore Browse Basin, about 425km north of the Kimberley town. A CHC spokesman confirmed the company had entered the partnership as part of its Reconciliation Action Plan to provide DAC with the “specialist aviation advice they need to explore the potential of redeveloping their airport”.

“We believe this could be an incredible opportunity for a 100 per cent Aboriginal-owned community business in the Shire of Broome to drive their own economic future; they are well placed to do it,” he said.

“We have not made any decisions about our future role in the airport but we continue to support DAC in this process.”

CHC currently provides helicopter crew transfers from Broome to the Browse Basin for Shell.

DAC chief executive Jenni Gould said the organisation was “looking at the option of potentially relocating the airport”.

“We have not yet made a decision and do not yet have the information to make a decision whether to go ahead or not — that probably won’t happen for another 12 months yet,” she said.

“We would be excited to offer these new facilities in the Shire of Broome, which would assist in employment for people on the Dampier Peninsula and in Broome, quite possibly.

“We are hoping it would have economic benefits for the West Kimberley and, in particular, the Shire of Broome.”

A State Government spokesperson said the Government was aware of the proposal and was considering its options.

Broome Chamber of Commerce and Industry president Peter Taylor has written to Regional Development Minister Alannah MacTiernan saying the proposal has the capacity to devastate the growth of the town and the West Kimberley.

In his letter, Mr Taylor estimated a new airport would cost Broome about 35 per cent of its passengers, resulting in decreased flight schedules and higher airfares at a time the tourism industry was looking to grow domestic flights and secure international links.

BIA chief executive Paul McSweeney said moving operations to a new airport would mean Broome received little to no benefit from the oil and gas industry.

“If 35 per cent of our passenger base is at risk, you could safely assume that hundreds of jobs are at risk as well as a significant contribution to the Broome and Kimberley economy,” he said.

Broome Shire president Harold Tracey said if supported, the proposal would hurt the local economy, cost jobs, and would not benefit tourism.

The existing airport at Djarindjin is used as a strategic refuelling hub for oil and gas helicopters and as an emergency evacuation site in case of cyclones.

BIA partnered the DAC in 2010 and gave the corporation an interest-free $6 million loan to carry out improvements to the facility.

The money was repaid last year and BIA continues to manage the Djarindjin Airport.

Even though the proposal states Shell is “prepared to sign a guarantee they will use it if it is built”, a spokesman from the resources giant said the company had given no such assurance. “Shell will continue utilising infrastructure in the West Kimberley region which supports safe personnel movements to and from the Prelude FLNG facility,” he said.

“We continually review our operational requirements taking into account business needs, risk management and opportunities for local communities.”

Inpex external affairs manager Bill Townsend said the company had “no immediate plans to change its arrangements.”

“These arrangements have been safely conducted for many years using helicopters operating from BIA and refuelling at Djarindjin airport,” he said.

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