WA Tourism Minister Paul Papalia has dismissed the potential for international flights to the region any time soon.
Tourism operators revelled in last fortnight’s long-awaited news of Jetstar flights from Melbourne and have demanded Busselton Airport’s terminal construction be readied for flights from Singapore.
However, Mr Papalia told the Times securing international services and trials for Perth was a painstaking task — and even harder for a regional airport.
“You won’t get an international flight,” he said. “Until the population grows substantially you are not going to entice an international airline to fly here and we are not going to pay them to fly here because that is not good use of taxpayer money. The challenge you always confront is airlines like both routes working, not just the flight coming here, but the flight coming back to cover their costs and to make a profit.”
In Parliament this week, Vasse MLA Libby Mettam and Warren-Blackwood MLA Terry Redman went on the attack about broken promises over the airport’s terminal upgrade, the airport’s inclusion in WA’s two-year tourism plan, and comments from Mr Papalia saying stakeholders were “sold a pup” and no airlines were interested in direct flights.
Mr Papalia clarified that when he said no airlines were interested, he meant international flights.
“No airlines are interested. That is just a fact,” he said.
Busselton Airport Action Group spokesman Peter Kalbfell said it was a typical Labor response.
“The Labor Government should be getting behind the region, especially now it’s been rated No.1 in the Asia-Pacific and Yallingup’s named best town,” he said.
“They don’t want people flying here because they’re concerned they want visitors to Perth.”
International tourists loved the region when they came, and flights were needed to harness that market.
Other operators, as well as City of Bunbury Mayor Gary Brennan, were keen to see flights support exports as well.
City of Busselton Mayor Grant Henley said there was “absolutely” potential for international flights.
He said several international carriers asked the City for future updates about the airport’s progress and Jetstar’s service.
“It is fair to say no one wants to be the first mover, but there are numerous examples of international flights that look at alternative entry points to a market,” he said. “I think if you look at the tourism numbers that come into this region, and at the totals that come to WA and number of flights to Perth, you will see a fair chunk of those are coming to the South West, so it would be entirely reasonable to speculate they would want to travel directly into it and make the most of time.” Ms Mettam said if the minister was serious about growing tourism in WA, he should not dismiss potential international flights.
“Since 2017, the McGowan Government has continually undermined this project by withdrawing the funding already allocated for a new terminal — withdrawal from airline negotiations, and with the continued negativity surrounding the potential success of this project,” she said.