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Friday, 12 September 1969

Mr CALDER (Northern Territory) - In speaking to the estimates for the Department of Civil Aviation I congratulate the Government on the extensions to the Adelaide Airport - through which many Territorians enter the south - at an approximate cost of $1.5m. I see from the estimates that $500,000 was spent to June 1969 on airport facilities at Darwin, Tindal and Alice Springs. At long last the domestic terminal at Darwin is being extended and improved. While I was up there last week I noticed the tolerance shown by travellers and the staff of the airways concerned in putting up with the overcrowding which occurs and the temporary arrangements which of necessity have been put in hand to handle traffic while the new facilities are being built. I hope that this work will be finished by the time the 'wet' arrives because under the present arrangements there is nowhere for passengers to go. Also, at present their luggage is collected outside. We all realise that this cannot be avoided, but I hope that the work will be continued with expedition and that it will be finished before the 'wet' because at the moment it looks as though the 'wet' could arrive early in Darwin.

Before taking off from Darwin I would like to raise the situation which exists at the light aircraft area at Darwin aerodrome, where there are dozens of aircraft with little or no repair and maintenance space or passenger facilities. Honourable members may imagine - 1 know that the Minister for Civil Aviation (Mr Swartz) does not - that light aircraft are aircraft such as Cessnas, 180s, Victas and that sort of thing. But on the tarmac there are such aircraft as DC3s, Cats, an old Boston, 4-engined Herons, 310s, Beechcraft and so on. There are dozens of such planes with little or no facilities. These light aircraft and the people who operate them are the life blood of the north. Light aircraft fly in and out of Darwin to mines, missions, cattle stations and all mining, industrial and social centres within a 1,000-mile radius of Darwin. The other day I saw that a light aircraft charter company was preparing to fly to Perth because of some delay involving one of the recognised operator's aircraft.

I would like to say again that light aircraft at Darwin Airport are in a crowded condition, and maintenance, of course, is very hard to do in the open. Most of the light aircraft have a very small amount of hangar space. As the Minister knows, the safety and success of our aircraft operations in Australia are based on a very high standard of maintenance. This cannot be carried out successfully in very crowded, borrowed quarters or out in the open, especially in the type of country that we have in the Northern Territory.

The situation with regard to aero clubs in the Northern Territory seems somewhat obscure at the moment. They are all endeavouring to make enough money to enable them to keep operating and to retain their instructors as well as build their own hangars for the protection of their own aircraft and their members' aircraft. The aero clubs are situated in areas where there are extreme temperatures. From now on in the north there will be constant rain, and there will be very high temperatures at other times. So I make a pica on their behalf that they be allowed to do sufficient charter work to keep themselves in business. I believe that in other States aero clubs are in a position to earn sufficient money to meet their needs. At Alice Springs, I believe, Connellan Airways has a first class light aircraft maintenance centre. Aero clubs in the Northern Territory should be in a position to do their own maintenance and look after their own aircraft. f would now like to say something about airports in the Northern Territory. 1 have already mentioned Darwin Airport which is to be greatly improved. At Tennant Creek there is a difficulty. Viscount aircraft are being phased out, and DC9 and Boeing 727 aircraft cannot land there. I have seen the BACIII, which was mentioned by my friend the honourable member for Mitchell (Mr Irwin), on the ground, and I imagine that it could operate economically out of Tennant Creek. Tennant Creek is left with the problem of being serviced by Friendship aircraft, and for some reason or other - beyond the control of the Minister, I hope - they all seem to arrive at the weekend. Both airlines seem to operate aircraft into Tennant Creek on Saturdays and Sundays. There is a lot of dissatisfaction concerning the freight situation in Tennant Creek. Very often freight arrives in Alice Springs from Adelaide on a DC9 aircraft and it is taken by road to Tennant Creek, 325 miles away, which defeats the whole object of sending articles by air freight. I urge the Department to look into the situation at Tennant Creek, even to see whether the airline companies could consider running freight aircraft to Tennant Creek.

Tennant Creek is a very busy centre. 1 think it is currently producing approximately 30,000 tons of copper a year. I do not know exactly the amount of gold which is exported at the present time, but I know that over the years £A25m worth has been produced. With the new Warrego mine being opened up in the west of Tennant Ceek, the amount of copper produced in the area will be doubled. Tennant Creek is not to be taken lightly. It is one of. the towns in the Northern Territory which is actually producing a very significant amount of wealth for Australia. If the Government cannot get the airlines to fly more aircraft into the Tennant Creek district, I ask it to look at the possibility of lengthening and strengthening the strip at Tennant Creek in order to give the town a service similar to that enjoyed by Alice Springs and Darwin. Let us face the fact that a great number of aircraft operate in and out of Alice Springs and Darwin. I am sure that people in those towns could not complain about the frequency of the service.

While discussing airports, I should like to refer to the terminal building at Alice Springs, which I use fairly often and which I see under all conditions - sometimes when there is no-one there at all. But I would imagine that on days such as yesterday there would be standing room only in the terminal building. I have seen this situation quite often. I ask the Government to look at this matter because large jet aircraft have been introduced and people are travelling in them. The terminal building at Alice Springs is similar to the terminal building at the Adelaide airport before the new buildings for which I commended the Government were erected. Also at Alice Springs for some time there has been a noticeable lack of refreshment facilities. I do not quite know why this is so. I imagine that the people concerned have made a request to install additional facilities. Perhaps there is not sufficient room. I imagine that under the conditions which are experienced on Mondays and which no doubt operated yesterday, there would not be sufficient room in which to install additional facilities. By the same token, it is necessary to provide some sort of catering facilities for the people travelling through the airport.

Katherine, which is a couple of hundred miles south of Darwin, is a rapidly growing centre. It will be the centre for very large agricultural and meat industries. The meat works, which unfortunately was burnt down earlier in the year, was reopened on 1st September as a result of a terrific effort by the management and the people of Katherine. The people of Katherine are fortunate in having the Royal Australian Air Force strip at Tindal, which is only 12 miles south of Katherine. This strip can take any sized jet aircraft that is operating in Australia. Naturally enough, the people of Katherine say: 'Why can't jet aircraft land here?' I think that their request is reasonable. I say to the people who are in charge there that I am glad to see that they have left the existing facilities and the existing north-south strip at Katherine for the use of light aircraft. These facilities will be much appreciated by the people who operate in and out of this area. As the local people in Katherine are fortunate to have near their town an aerodrome which can accommodate jet aircraft, I think that they are entitled to a jet aircraft service instead of the Friendship service which operates on 2 or 3 days a week. I note that in the estimates money is being allocated this year for the Tindal airstrip. There is a passenger terminal there, and the money will bc used for providing lighting facilities and so on. I ask the Minister to look at the passenger and freight positions up and down the Northern Territory. The Territory is growing very rapidly. I think that quite a deal of forward planning is required. I hope that the Government can do this planning in order to keep ahead of expansion.

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