Construction on widening the runway at Coober Pedy Airport will commence in November after the project secured state funding, in a move that ensures Regional Express (Rex) will be able to maintain services from Adelaide using Saab 340 aircraft.
The South Australian government has backed $1.3 million project to widen the runway to 30 metres, from 18 metres currently, so it will meet international regulations.
Coober Pedy district council mayor Steve Baines said the council was ready to begin work once the paperwork was settled.
“The threat to our vital air service has been lifted,” Cr Baines said in a statement.
“Losing the Rex flights would have killed off the tourism industry and had major impact on the residents of Coober Pedy and surrounding areas. Council and I are delighted that this has been resolved.”
Figures from the SA government showed 75 per cent of passengers on flights to Coober Pedy were visitors to the town.
SA transport and infrastructure minister Stephen Mulligan said the runway upgrade would allow regular passengers services to continue unrestricted to Coober Pedy.
“The prospect of losing commercial flights to Coober Pedy was unacceptable to the South Australian Government,” Mulligan said.
The Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) said on September 4 aspects of the current arrangements for Rex to operate to Coober Pedy did not provide the “appropriate continued management of safety on an 18-metre sealed runway with gravel edges”.
“CASA believes it is in the best interests of the travelling public to introduce new safety standards for all narrow runway operations across Australia, including Coober Pedy,” CASA said.
CASA said Rex would be permitted to operate into Coober Pedy while the runway widening work was carried out.
“It should be noted that leading aviation nations such as the United States, Europe and New Zealand do not allow narrow runway operations under the arrangements that have been in place in Australia,” CASA said.
“However, CASA believes it is in the interests of the Coober Pedy community to allow these flights to continue in the short-term because any restrictions could cause social and economic disruption.”