Airstrip upgrades welcome after busy wet season

Wednesday February 15, Darwin

Our intrepid aviators have welcomed news of a $3 million funding injection for remote airstrip upgrades in the Top End, courtesy of the Commonwealth Government.

CareFlight’s fleet of B200 Kingair air ambulances operate in some of Australia’s most challenging airspace, bringing vital medical care to more than 50,000 people who live in remote communities.

Those challenges are most acute at the height of the wet season, as we are now.  Many remote airstrips do not have approved GPS-based surveys for instrument landing approaches, which makes low cloud an often insurmountable barrier to vital care.

As a result the CareFlight Top End Rescue Helicopter has never been busier, stepping in to rescue patients who would normally travel to hospital by fixed wing aircraft or road. One flood-bound community, Beswick east of Katherine, has seen the helicopter land four times in the past five days.

Year round, airstrip lighting constraints can make the helicopter the only safe option for urgent medical care after dark.  Other challenges include unsealed surfaces, in some cases with rocks and termite mounds an additional hazard.  Then there is the ever-present risk from wildlife and livestock.

Commonwealth Transport and Infrastructure Minister Darren Chester announced funding for improvements to 14 Top End airstrips as part of an $11.8 million investment in 91 projects across Australia under the Government’s Remote Airstrip Upgrade Program.

The main beneficiary is Bathurst Island, with $1.5 million to completely reconstruct what is now a very bumpy runway and apron.

The Milyakburra community, on remote Bickerton Island in the Gulf of Carpentaria, will also see a $678,000 reseal and upgrade, while South Goulburn Island has $250,000 for resealing and Elcho Island another $250,000 for much-needed apron and taxiway upgrades.

Croker Island, Lake Evella, Palumpa, Peppimenarti, Ramingining, Snake, Bay, Wadeye, Hodgson Downs and Robinson River will all receive $25,000 for new line markings and other works and Jabiru has $13,737 for new solar lights.

CareFlight operates the Top End Medical Retrieval Service on behalf of the Northern Territory Government.

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