FIFO carrier Cobham Aviation says it has opened up hundred of remote air strips to commercial jet service for the first time by modifying two BAe 146 aircraft with ‘gravel kits’ that protect the undercarriage and airframe during takeoff and landing.
“Until now, companies operating out of gravel airstrips were forced to use turboprop aircraft, with a limit of 50 passengers,” said Cobham CEO Peter Nottage.
“The gravel kit modification means faster flights in safe, quiet jets with full cabin service for mining workers, creating a much improved travel experience and a happier and more productive workforce. The alternative to achieve this is to spend millions of dollars building a sealed runway.”
The carrier said its first jet FIFO services were being provided to a mining consortium in Kambalda, 500km east of Perth. Cobham is also in active talks with other mining companies to expand the service.
The introduction of the gravel kits on the 71-seat BAe 146 came after an 18 month test period and final approval by CASA in January. The kits include specialised rubber paint to protect the underside of the fuselage, a nose wheel stone deflector and a Kevlar undercarriage shield around the main landing gear.
Cobham believes that only the BAe 146 is durable enough to operate on unsealed gravel strips, Mr Nottage said. He said the aircraft are used for similar services in Mongolia and Bolivia, though nowhere else.