Regional airfare ‘unfairness’ undetermined

Peter de KruijffThe Kimberley Echo
An Air North flight comes in to land on the Kununurra Airport runway.
Camera IconAn Air North flight comes in to land on the Kununurra Airport runway. Credit: Peter de Kruijff

An inquiry into the perceived high cost of regional WA airfares couldn’t determine whether passengers were getting rorted.

It has instead made recommendations which could lead to regulation on some routes and called on carriers to provide greater transparency and more consultation with communities.

The inquiry started in June and received a record number of submissions, 122, and held hearings in Perth and six regional centres including Kununurra, Broome, Karratha, Albany, Esperance and Kalgoorlie.

Inquiry chairwoman Jessica Shaw said, when tabling the report this afternoon, it received considerable evidence regional residents believed fares on unregulated routes were unreasonable.

“We also received academic evidence to suggest fares are lower and less volatile on regulated routes,” she said.

Ms Shaw said the reasonableness of unregulated routes couldn’t be determined, however, given the airlines had not been forthcoming in providing details about how they decided fares.

She said the government would prefer carriers were more transparent with communities about how they set fares.

“There a range of steps airlines could take,” Ms Shaw said.

“Particularly for those having to travel in emergency or compassionate circumstances.

“We note airlines used to offer compassionate fares to assist community members travelling at times of great distress.”

Ms Shaw said there should be a biannual report on market dynamics and airfares with a requirement for more information about the unregulated routes from services.

The inquiry’s committee has recommended the Department of Transport look into whether more regulated routes should be established in WA with a specific focus on Kununurra-Perth.

There are currently seven regulated routes in WA meaning they are serviced by one provider.

The State currently subsidises one unregulated route between Kununurra and Halls Creek.

The report also calls for a review of the State Aviation Strategy which would include a look at the viability of a “coastal milk-run”, servicing the Pilbara and towns between it and Geraldton.

Committee member and MLA Stephen Price said there were 48 findings and 13 recommendations being put forward out of the inquiry.

“I don’t think we fully appreciate and comprehend the impact high airfares has on people who live in regional WA,” he said.

“People talking about having to pay $1000 each way to a family member’s funeral is just unacceptable.”

The inquiry’s 13 recommendations:

1. The Minister for Transport initiate an immediate review to update the State Aviation Strategy, to reflect current market conditions and the Government’s intrastate aviation policy objectives. The review should consider the adequacy of the Department of Transport’s resources, in light of any proposed changes to its policies or functions.

2. The Ministers for Transport, Tourism, and Regional Development establish an interdepartmental working group by 1 February 2018 to assist the review of the State Aviation Strategy and undertake a more coordinated approach to aviation policy implementation.

3. The Premier consider re-establishing an Aviation Ministerial Council, to provide oversight for the recommended review of the State Aviation Strategy and ensure an ongoing whole-of-Government approach to the implementation State aviation policy.

4. The Department of Transport develop memorandums of understanding by July 2018 with regional airport operators that service unregulated RPT flights for the provision of relevant flight and passenger data. As a minimum, the operators should provide the data that they disclose to the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics.

5. The Minister for Transport utilise existing licensing powers under the Transport Coordination Act 1966 and Transport Co-Ordination Regulations 1985 to require that airlines operating on unregulated RPT routes provide the ‘prescribed records’ listed in Appendix Seven to the Department of Transport. Strict confidentiality protocols need to be observed around commercially sensitive information.

6. The Minister for Transport direct the Department of Transport to produce a biannual report assessing prevailing market dynamics and airfares on WA’s unregulated RPT routes.

7. The Minister for Transport direct the Department of Transport to undertake a discrete, detailed economic analysis and community consultation to determine whether any additional RPT routes in WA should be subject to regulation, with priority placed on the Perth-Kununurra service.

8. The Department of Transport review its current tender design process for regulated RPT routes. The review should consult with the market regarding alternative packaging arrangements to optimise service efficiencies for ‘like’ routes.

9. As part of the review of the State Aviation Strategy, the Department of Transport engage with industry and local communities to examine the market opportunities for additional inter-regional routes within Western Australia.

10. As part of the review of the State Aviation Strategy, the Department of Transport consider whether any current RPT routes require subsidisation to secure their viability.

11. The Department of Transport report to the Minister of Transport on the viability and utility of providing a web-based tool for regional airfares similar to FuelWatch.

12. As part of the review of the State Aviation Strategy, the Department of Transport consider opportunities to leverage the State’s purchasing power to encourage initiatives such as compassionate and/or community airfares for residents.

13. All proposals for new mining airstrips within 100km of existing RPT airports to be considered at Cabinet level and be accompanied by a recommendation from the Aviation Ministerial Council.

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