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Karlawinda Gold Aerodrome project

A new aerodrome was constructed by Capricorn Metals at its Karlawinda Gold Project to enable workers to fly straight to site. Cobham was proud to be involved in the delivery of the project.

Q400 at Karlawinda

On Friday 25 March 2022 we commenced services to a newly developed Aerodrome at Karlawinda Gold Project (KGP) for our existing customer Capricorn Metals Ltd (Capricorn).

Cobham has been providing fly-in, fly-out services to Capricorn’s Karlawinda site since its inception, with two flights per week between Perth and Newman Airport.

About the Karlawinda Mine

The KGP is located in Western Australia’s Pilbara region, 65km south-east of the town of Newman. The mine is operated by Australian based gold producer Capricorn, based in Perth, Western Australia.

The project area is 110 kilometres wide and 30 kilometres long.

Construction of the KGP commenced in December 2019 and was completed in June 2021. A 306-room accommodation village was constructed onsite, and a 44 kilometre long access road was constructed to link the village to the existing highway. The successful commissioning of the processing plant resulted in the first gold pour of 386 ounces on 30 June 2021. By September 2021, Capricorn announced the project had reached steady state operations.

The mine has an anticipated life span of 12 years and is expected to produce approximately 1.2 million ounces of gold during that time.

Location of the Karlawinda Gold Project

Why a new aerodrome?

The cost of air travel is a key consideration for Western Australia’s developing mining and mineral exploration industry. Whether a new airstrip is constructed or whether a more distant airstrip owned by a third party is used is determined by commerciality, safety, reliability, accessibility and flexibility of service. In July 2020, Capricorn made the decision to construct an airstrip on site to deliver operational efficiencies by reducing mining contractor shift change downtime over the life of the mine.

This new 2km long airstrip at Karlawinda is only a few hundred metres from the camp, making a seamless FIFO journey for workers on board our Q400 aircraft. Prior to the construction of this new aerodrome, our aircraft would land at Newman Airport, 85 kms away by road, and more than an hour's drive from the mine site by bus. There was also increased risk involved in using the Newman Airport during the wet season with the trip often taking longer due to hazardous conditions, and the threat of road closures.

With the new aerodrome being constructed alongside the project’s accommodation village, there are significant benefits to both Capricorn and to the workers themselves.

A company needs to be able to transport its workforce safely and economically to its site. The cost of transporting workers to site is a significant business input for mining, which demands tight management to ensure operational efficiency is not detrimentally affected. Without an affordable method of transporting workers to site, many mines would not be feasible. In addition, an airstrip near a mine site reduces the costs of meeting fatigue and mental health requirements to ensure a healthy workforce, and allows for more flexible flight departure times to meet the demands of an operating mine.

The proximity of an airstrip on site also allows for more family friendly workforce roster arrangements, reducing pressure on employees at the end of an already significant journey and lessening time away from family. Ultimately, employees have a right, and a reasonable expectation, to travel as little possible to their workplace.

The Aerodrome Project

The multi-million-dollar project to construct the new aerodrome at Karlawinda was initiated by Capricorn in July 2020. Aerodrome Management Services (AMS) were commissioned to conduct design and compliance duties throughout the project including the CASA certification process. Construction works were undertaken by MACA Civil, with the involvement of Survey Dynamics. The aerodrome was completed in March 2022, ready to welcome its first flight on 25 March.

As a new project, the Karlawinda Aerodrome was required to comply with the new, more stringent safety standards CASA implemented in late 2020, which meant that the project was far more complex than upgrading an existing aerodrome.

The Karlawinda Aerodrome is a Code 3C aerodrome capable of handling the largest aircraft in Cobham’s fleet, the 104 seat Embraer E190.

Capricorn Metals’ Karlawinda General Manager – Operations Steve Evans, Technical Services Superintendent Jean-Pierre Adams, Aerodrome Manager Mat Lyons and the Capricorn Metals team worked closely with AMS to design and build a facility that would set a new benchmark for regional aerodromes in the future.

A team of people at Cobham played a role in the delivery of the Aerodrome, with Flight Performance Specialist Brett Montgomery taking the lead. Brett and Cobham’s Head of Flight Operations Gavin Healy, both visited the aerodrome prior to the first flight to ensure that the aerodrome and associated facilities met Cobham’s safety and operational standards prior to us commencing operations.

“The collective efforts of Capricorn, AMS and Cobham have made this the smoothest ‘entry into service’ we have ever experienced! We thank all involved for their attention to detail and commitment to safety,” Brett Montgomery said.

The first flight

In the days leading up to the first flight to the new aerodrome, our Ground Operations team, the Capricorn project team and the new Aerodrome Reporting Officers (AROs) for Karlawinda spent time together in Perth completing ARO training and preparing for the commencement of flights.

Cobham’s Head of Flight Operations Gavin Healy and Cobham Ground Operations Officer Josh Fraser, flew to the aerodrome to help prepare for operations to commence.

Josh Fraser, Cobham Ground Operations Officer:

Terminal set up

I flew to Newman on March 24 to be on ground for the first flight and to assist with setting up the terminal.

Together with the aerodrome team, we set up the check-in area: seating for passengers, televisions, boarding area – and cleaned the terminal before the first flight arriving the following day.

The Karlawinda team was professional and efficient. As an example, while we were setting up our baggage tag printers at check-in, I suggested they should consider installing a shelf to sit below the counter to prevent the counter space being used for bags. Within 15 minutes, someone was in the terminal with a shelf and drill and was installing it into the counter!

Once we had all the computers set up and terminal ready for passengers, we did a few mock check-ins to test all was running smoothly.

First flight

We arrived at the terminal at 6am and had passengers ready to check-in straight away. The team jumped straight in and began checking in our passengers as well as tagging up bags and placing them on a barrow ready to load.

We completed check-in 20 minutes ahead of schedule and everything was ready to go before the plane had landed. Once on ground, flight crew came off the aircraft and introduced themselves. We promptly loaded the aircraft and 15 minutes later I was being boarded onto the plane ready to return home to Perth!

The Capricorn team should be very proud of the aerodrome they have helped build, the terminal facilities and the team they have on the ground. The first flight was very successful and FIFO workers no longer need to drive more than an hour to get to and from Newman airport to site.