Okay here's another quirky trip report.
Got myself a seat on one of the charters flying from Perth to Cunderdin for the inaugural Easter Air Show.
First some background
Cunderdin is small wheat farming town 160 km east of Perth with a population of nearly 1500. During WWII it was a significant training base for the Empire Air Training Scheme with many dozens of Tiger Moths based there. Later B-24 Liberator bombers of 25 Sqdn RAAF were based there, flying missions into (now) Indonesia and PNG (after staging through various northwest Australian strips). Currently the Cunderdin Aerodrome is home to the Western Australian Gliding Club and has a relatively (for its size) active general aviation community.
More recently times have been quite tough for Cunderdin, and similar rural communities, with droughts, salt poisoned lands and the gradual drift of people to the metropolitan areas on the coast.
So the Avon Valley Aviation Alliance was formed to bring together ALL
local aviation interests to do something at the historic old aerodrome. This something was an air show to be held every second year on the Saturday and Sunday of the Easter long weekend. See http://www.cunderdinaviationexpo.avon.net.au/
So first I tried to get a seat for either day on the Skywest F50 that had been chartered to fly enthusiasts from Perth to Cunderdin for the day but was told that there had been no interest in a Sunday flight, only the Saturday, but that the F50 was fully booked for that day. Fortunately the travel agent organising the charters was setting another flight with Skippers Aviation that would be a Metro, an EMB-120 Brasilia or a DHC-8 depending on numbers. Great, that would do me so I paid my $120.
AM Saturday, 19 April 2002
Arrived at the Skippers Aviation terminal that is quite remote from the main domestic terminal at Perth (PER
) at 0845. Skippers do fly a couple of thin RPT routes in Western Australia; (Perth-Meekatharra-Wiluna and Broome-Derby) but mainly fly charters, especially fly-in/fly-out contracts  for mining companies. See http://www.skippers.com.au
The terminal was completed in 1996 with a capacity for 200 pax and in architectural design is a miniature of those of the mainline carriers. I noticed that the information screens gave the news that three Skippers flights would arrive from Cunderdin at 1715 but there was no departure information. Three flights! That was interesting.
So I checked in - which entailed showing photo ID
, having my carryon backpack weighed, and being given a plastic laminated orange boarding pass. No seat allocations here. I asked what aircraft I would be on I was told a Brasilia. That was okay, I was hoping for a Dash 8 (better viewing) but as I had not been on either I wasn't too fussed - was glad it wasn't a Metro, that would be a bit cramped.
Spent the next 40 minutes watching the ramp activity. Saturday is cleaning day for Skippers with the tarmac a maze of power leads and hoses as the fleet is hosed down and cleaned out. There were 4 Cessna Conquests, 2 Metroliners and 3 EMB-120 Brasilias in view receiving attention.
Across the other side of the airport I saw a SAA B747 from JNB
arrive and join a Cathay A330 at the International terminal.
While I was waiting the lounge become quite busy. I noticed a number of casually dressed people who were obviously Skippers employees because they were going behind the check in counter and out again. Many seemed to be accompanied by spouses/partners and some had young children with them. Then I overheard two of these people talking about a charter and taking a Metro – curiouser and curiouser.
At 0930 an announcement, "Would all passengers for Cunderdin holding purple boarding passes please go to Gate 1 for boarding."
So there were at least two flights to Cunderdin and about 30 pax mustered at that gate.
And five minutes later, "Would all passengers for Cunderdin holding orange boarding passes please go to Gate 2 for boarding." So we lined up, the doors opened and our Flight Attendant collected the recyclable boarding passes from us as we went out onto the ramp. Here another Skippers staff member herded us across the tarmac to our waiting EMB-120ER Brasilia, VH
-XUD. The Flight Attendant got the two families with toddlers to board first so they would get the non-Emergency Exit rows. The rest of us then followed on board. The Brasilia is 1-2 seating so I went down the back so as to have a clear view aft of the wing and grabbed single seat 9A on the left side. We buckled up and the Flight Attendant introduced herself as Susan and went through the safety routine. She went though the oxygen mask drill even though as she said we would not be exceeding an altitude of 11,000 ft on our very short flight. Also because of the short flight time there would be no in-flight service and we were to keep our seat belts fastened at all times.
At 0950 Susan closed the door/air-stairs and two minutes later the twin PW118s began spooling up. Although VH
-XUA, the other Brasilia had loaded first and had also powered up, we began taxying out first. It’s quite aways from the Skippers terminal at the western end of the now disused east/west runway to the western threshold of 06/24 but there was no other traffic and we soon were lining up after doing a 180 on the stripes of 06. Power was applied; we accelerated, and rotated at 1004 at the intersection of 06/24 and the main runway, 03/21.
-XUD, Skippers Aviation fourth EMB-120, was delivered on 25 January after ferrying in to Perth from Brisbane where it’s former owner, Alliance Airlines, had it registered as VH
-XFC. We climbed out over the Darling Ranges and levelled out at 1010 just under dense cloud cover around the 8000 ft mark. 1012 saw us passing over Northam at TOD. Passing through 6000 ft we turned right and approached Cunderdin Aerodrome from the north. A full 360 left hand circuit was flown for a landing on runway 05. The circuit was flown clean with flaps and gear not dropped until turning on base. Full flaps weren’t applied until on short final, and then it was touchdown at 1020 and heavy braking, although the 1856m long, 45m wide runway was more than adequate. We turned and backtracked to the intersection of 05/23 and the cross strip 14/32 whereupon we turned left and were met by a "Follow Me" pickup, one of five operating for the air show no less – wow Cunderdin was really doing it right!
We manoeuvred into a spot near a glider hanger and while waiting for XUA to park in front of us and shutdown Susan offered us bottled water. Block time was 34 minutes, 16 in the air. Upon deplaning we were ushered passed a row of glider trailers, through a security fence, given our air show wristbands and program, and then set loose for the day with instructions to be back for a 1630 departure. Then I saw the Skippers Metro arrive and discharge all the casually dressed staff and families I had seen in the terminal at Perth. Ah, that was it, the Metro was used to fly in support staff (Cunderdin has no turbine engineering or fuel facilities and no doubt Skippers could not afford to have up to half its EMB-120 fleet stranded here should a mechanical/technical issue arise); and their families non-revved on the spare seats!
Two Brasilias and an F50 mean 100 people, out of the over 8000 who attended that day, flew the charters to Cunderdin air show – not a bad effort. The air show was cross between a country fair and an air show actually, complete with rows of hay bales along the flight line to sit on! But this is a Trip Report not an air show review, so ...
PM Saturday, 19 April 2002
The air show events concluded at 1600 so I then started to make my way back to XUD. The security fence was unattended so we all just wandered through the DH
Tiger Moths and DHC Chipmunks (ensuring to stay well behind those still being used for joyrides by the Royal Aero Club of Western Australia, at a price well below the $1100 Bill Wylie was charging for 20 minutes in his beautiful P51D I might add) and past the glider trailers to our Brasilia.
I board XUD at 1608, and as we were asked, resume my seat, 9A. Susan checks our names of her list and while we wait for XUA to start up (it is in front of us) she repeats the safety drill and serves orange juice. The closed aircraft is very warm and stuffy but the Capt. starts the APU and the air conditioning thankfully soon kicks in. We have to wait for XUA to turn around in front of us and move off, and then the Skywest F50, VH
-FND, taxies past. At 1643 we are finally rolling and we are number three for take off after XUA and FND.
The Metro follows us – I doubt 120 people have ever left Cunderdin by air so quickly before this. Our wheels leave the surface of 05 at 1652 and with a nice steep turn to the left giving great views of the aerodrome we head west for PER
. 1703 sees us descending over the Darling Range for a straight in arrival on runway 24, the reciprocal of our departure. And 18 minutes after departing Cunderdin we contact the ground at Perth. Five minutes later and XUD is slowly taxying its way through Skippers crowded ramp area which now contains the airlines two Dash 8s and another Metro in addition to the aircraft that were there in the morning.
After thanking Susan and the flight crew we're ushered across the tarmac and into the terminal where my wife picks me up in time to get to Perth Oval to see Perth Glory wallop Newcastle United 4-0.
 "Fly-in/fly-out" is where mining companies in the remote areas of Western Australia fly in all their staff on two or three weeks on and one week off rotations from Perth. This means that they don't have to set up fully serviced towns near the mine sites; they just provide barrack type quarters. Saves them money but costs the communities back in Perth as a consequence of the disrupted family lives and resulting social issues.
Whew, I'm glad that's done; what a bloody chore, I don't know how Singaporeair does it!