Shire of Wyndham East Kimberley Council agrees to defer Melbourne – Kununurra direct flights trial to 2021 due to the uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic

Published on Thursday, 2 April 2020 at 2:48:34 PM

At the Shire of Wyndham East Kimberley’s Ordinary Council Meeting, held 24 March 2020, Council agreed that the 2020 direct flights trial between Melbourne and Kununurra be deferred to 2021.

Shire President, Cr David Menzel said given the current circumstances with regards to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the direct flight trial this year is no longer viable.

“Council considered all the current developments with regard to the COVID-19 virus and the impacts on the Melbourne - Kununurra direct flights trial,” he said.

“The impact of COVID-19 has significantly changed the business conditions in which the flight trial operates and the assumptions that the trial was based on are now no longer valid.”

The trial was designed to give stakeholders an accurate picture of what direct flights would look like for a more permanent air service route, but the data required to determine its success would be unusable due to the impacts of COVID-19 on both the economy and tourism locally.

With much regret, it has now been deemed inevitable that the trial would not be able to operate in the current situation, especially in consideration of the stringent travel restrictions implemented across the country and in particular the Kimberley in order to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus.

The Shire will now seek an agreement between the relevant partners involved in the trial to agree in principle to defer the trial to 2021. Details relating to refunds for flights already paid for will be announced in the coming days.

 “At this time, it is the Shire’s position that it does not welcome non-essential travel to the region and we support the State Government’s strict travel restrictions to help protect our community,” Cr Menzel said.

“We have also sadly seen the cancellation of many of our regional iconic events, including the Ord Valley Muster, which was a major drawcard of the direct flights this year.”

Cr Menzel said the flight trial was regarded as a success until the COVID-19 impact and that although the 2020 flight trial has been deferred, Council endorses future trials.

“We recognise the key role the flights will have in attracting more tourists to the East Kimberley and driving economic growth to the region, which is even more important now in the face of this pandemic.

“We understand this decision will be disappointing to locals, travellers, businesses and operators but we look forward to welcoming travellers on the direct flight trial next year and showing what our fantastic region has to offer,” he said.

East Kimberley Marketing Group Acting Chairperson, Charlie Sharpe said that until recently the forward ticket sales for the duration of the 2020 trial flights had been exceeding expectations leading up to the inaugural flight which was scheduled to land in Kununurra on the 16th of May this year.

“After nearly 6 years of tireless negotiation with a myriad of stakeholders, 2020 was to be the beginning of a new era for air access into and out of the fabulous East Kimberley.

“Unfortunately, as much as it has become evident that the direct Melbourne flights trial would be a great success, it would only be possible if it was not for the current COVID-19 outbreak across the globe,” Mr Sharpe said.

The East Kimberley Marketing Group will now endeavour to contact all of those in the community who generously pledged financial support for this service and will be offering these funds to be paid back in full.

“We understand the reimbursement of these funds is likely to provide much needed financial relief to those who are suffering from the current shutdown impacting many businesses and individuals.

“The East Kimberley Marketing Group board sincerely thanks the community, the Shire of Wyndham East Kimberley and all relevant stakeholders for their valuable input and support of this trial up to this point and we look forward to the inaugural flight landing in Kununurra in 2021.

“Details of the 2021 service and schedules will be released as discussions progress and some form of normality returns to the nation,” Mr Sharpe said.


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