Work has commenced on a $1.3 million upgrade of the Coober Pedy airstrip to help secure the future of commercial flights to the popular Outback town.
The Transport and Infrastructure Minister, Stephen Mullighan, announced the funding in November in response to new Civil Aviation Safety Authority requirements which could have ended passenger air services to Coober Pedy.
“The prospect of losing commercial flights to this iconic opal town was unacceptable to the South Australian Government so we moved to safeguard them,” Mr Mullighan said.
“This project is about securing a vital service to a remote part of South Australia – a service that contributes to the economy of this important Outback town and region.”
The new CASA requirements classify the Coober Pedy runway as too narrow. It needs to be widened from 18 metres to 30 metres to keep running commercial flights.
The Member for Giles, Eddie Hughes, lobbied for the upgrade to help secure the future of the local community.
“Data shows that 75 per cent of people who arrive on planes in Coober Pedy are visitors,” Mr Hughes said.
The Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure’s figures show of those visitors to the town, 50 per cent travel for business and 39 per cent for tourism or leisure.
Almost half of those who travel for business are employed in Coober Pedy’s mining sector.
“Widening the runway will not only increase economic opportunities but it will also help to secure the livelihoods of those who work in this opal mining town,” Mr Hughes said.
The District Council of Coober Pedy is overseeing the upgrade works.
Weather permitting, the widening and sealing of the runway should be complete by the end of February.
Following the completion of this necessary work, the State Government is also funding further improvements for the long-term sustainability of the airport.
These works will involve an additional layer of sealing to increase the durability of the runway and will commence later in 2015.