Airstrip upgrades welcome after wet season damage

CareFlight at Smiths Point airstrip
CareFlight at Smiths Point airstrip

The Federal Government has injected $3 million into the revamp of remote airstrips across the Top End.

Careflight, an Australian aeromedical charity with its fleet of 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,” a spokesman said. 

“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,” he said.

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.