Rotto revolt

ROTTNEST ISLAND is being boycotted by private pilots over skyrocketing landing fees.

Earlier this year, the Rottnest Island Authority changed the fee structure from an annual $240 to $51.50 every time a plane touches down on the island’s basic airstrip.

Furious, the Royal Aero Club and the Curtin Flying Club have vowed not to go near the island, which last year had 7422 private landings.

Based on those figures, the RIA will pocket about $382,233 per annum under the new fees.

RAC chief executive David Currey said they used to recommend Rottnest to all pilots as the go-to destination, but no longer. According to the club’s Facebook page, they’re now shifting all their organised events to southern airports.

• Royal Aero Club chief executive David Currey takes a scenic trip over Rotto – but he won’t be touching down.

Tourism

Mr Currey says the pilots and their passengers were a great economic boon to the island, as they would always spend money in local businesses, whereas boaties often stayed aboard with food and drinks they brought across in eskies.

“Aircraft push tourism a hell of a lot, especially with Perth’s international community; it’s a completely different perspective,” Mr Currey told the Herald.

“Visitors need to go to Rottnest Island, Fremantle Prison and Margeret River but with a finite time to experience everything, quicker transport is beneficial for viewing Perth icons,” Mr Currey says.

Adding to the pilots’ anger, the RIA neglected to tell them of its plans and simply posted the new fees on its website. That was picked up by AVdata, a non-profit organisation that collects data about every airport in Australia.

“We heard from AVdata, and we are the biggest singular user of the airport! We weren’t formally informed at all,” Mr Currey said.

“I phoned them and I lodged a written complaint via letter due to the discriminatory nature of this ruling against planes compared to boats.”

The RIA hasn’t changed mooring costs for boats from the annual fee of $248.

• David Currey and Curtin Flying Club pilot Michael Hebbard. Photo by Jackson Lavell-Lee

Upgraded

The authority’s new media wrangler Mike Yeats says the aerodrome was recently upgraded, but downplayed the economic impact of visitors arriving by plane.

“In 2016/17, only 1 percent of visitors arrived by aircraft,” he said.

“The admission fee contributes to the cost of maintaining the reserve and the island’s essential infrastructure and utilities.”

He says the authority is still committed to supporting aircraft travel to and from Rotto and will endeavour to make sure it gives better notice to pilots if fees are to change in the future.

“The RIA will review the Aerodrome usage fees as part of the 2018/19 fee assessment.”

But Mr Currey reckons the review has been called because of the boycott.

“I understand that this is being reviewed because of the significant decrease in volume, and we welcome the review,” he says.

Private pilot Jordan Brindle says the jacked-up fees might see him take to the water to get to Rotto, particularly as he reckons the aerodrome is too “archaic” to justify the cost.

“It’s like everything on the island; the government is not willing to subsidise any of the cost. They leave it expensive in comparison to other airports,” he said.

Mandurah and Bunbury airports have free access for pilots registered to a club.

Former Curtin Flying Club president Michael Hebbard reckons the RIA is picking on pilots to plug holes in its budget because they’re perceived as being rich.

“We are regular people who are seeking to be treated in the same manner as anyone else who accesses Rottnest; how we get there shouldn’t determine the cost of accessibility,” Mr Hebbard told the Herald.

By JACKSON LAVELL-LEE

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