Changes in regulations by CASA have put air services to Coober Pedy in jeopardy and the indecision has been causing angst among tourist operators and locals.
“The time for clarification is well and truly due by now,” according to Member for Grey Rowan Ramsey.
He has recently brought the matter to the attention of the parliament and said, “This has been going since 2012. We are now only seven months away from February, so it is of great concern to me that things are moving too slowly”
“Because Coober Pedy is so isolated it is simply not negotiable that we could contemplate not having a commercial air service out of Coober Pedy.
“Since 2002 this has been operated by Rex Airlines. Rex operates a fleet of Saab 340s Australia-wide.
“In February 2012, CASA made an amendment to the minimum runway widths for landing aeroplanes like the Saab 340.
Mr Ramsey spoke about the huge imposition the cost of widening the airstrip to meet CASA regulations would prove to the District Council of Coober Pedy.
“The widening of the strip would cost the owner of the airstrip, the Coober Pedy Council, $800,000, and it would need to be in place by February 2015, unless something is done about,” he said.
“I have been closely involved with this issue since late last year, having asked for a common sense approach I cannot believe the obstacles that have been put in place.
“In fact these aircraft have been landing on this strip for around 15 years, without incident.
“One would think with that kind of record it should not be all that hard to maintain the same exemption the aircraft have had for all of that period.”
Mr Ramsey said he has been in constant communication with Rex and CASA over this issue.
“In their latest letter CASA assure me of the following:
I would like to reiterate that the widening (upgrading) of Coober Pedy’s runways is not required, unless the aerodrome operator wishes to do so as a business decision …,” he said.
“But CASA are telling Rex, the operators of the aircraft, they need to go back to Saab and develop a flight supplement that will allow for the narrow-runway landings.
Mr Ramsey is concern that if this costs Rex a significant amount of money to develop he does not think they will retain the service into Coober Pedy.”
“If the development of the flight supplement with Saab is to cost more than the route is worth to Rex, the flight service will cease on 12 February next year. I continue talking to CASA and they say that it will all be well in hand and everything will be fine.
Mr Ramsey is quietly confident that a positive resolution will be achieved, but he says tour operators, businesses and locals in Coober Pedy need the certainty now.