Two Towers at Karratha - 1987

This rare photo shows two Control Towers at Karratha, WA, on 23 August 1987.

The advent of the 'resources boom' in north-western Australia in the early 1960s saw the introduction by MacRobertson Miller Airlines (MMA) in 1959 of Fokker F.27 RPT services to the north-western ports of Newman, Port Hedland, Dampier/Karratha, Paraburdoo and Tom Price. With the introduction of Fokker F.28 jet services in 1969 a Control Tower was commissioned at the main airport of Port Hedland.

The ever increasing light aircraft feeder traffic to and from these ports to the mines and oil rigs was controlled for some years only by the means of Mandatory Broadcast Zones (MBZs), with the jets operating outside controlled airspace (OCTA) because there was none below FL200, and mixing it regularly within 30 miles of the above destinations with up to five (or more) other aircraft. This meant that from 30 DME, the non-flying jet pilot had the details of several aircraft to write down, as supplied by the FSU, and then had to establish self-separation in the 5 minutes it took to arrive in the circuit - an unsafe situation. Many years later, as the tempo of the boom (iron ore, oil, gas and salt, and the huge North West Shelf Project) was increasingly centered on Karratha, a Tower was deemed advisable there also.

It is thought that the Tower service commenced operation on 4 August 1983 using the portable Tower at right in the photo above. This Tower was previously at Parafield during 1980-81 whilst a new permanent Tower cab was being constructed to replace the earlier cab on top of the Ops/Admin building there.

A permanent Tower, seen at left in the photo above, was constructed at a cost of $900,000 and opened in July 1987. 'Network pricing', used at that time to levy airways charges, meant that the cost of a Tower service was spread across the entire industry. That policy would later be changed to 'location specific pricing' which meant that the cost of providing a Tower service at ports such as Karratha, with relatively few movements compared to major ports, became prohibitive. Karratha Tower was deemed to be uneconomical to operate and was closed in the late 1990s.

However, by 2009 the ever expanding mining boom and extensive petrochemical developments in the north-west saw air traffic in and out of Karratha increase to a level where the Civil Aviation Safety Authority determined that a Tower was once again required to manage the airspace around Karratha. Accordingly, the Tower was re-opened by Airservices Australia on 18 November 2010. Refurbishing the Tower took approximately three months and five Controllers are based in Karratha, working two shifts a day between 0945 and 2215 local. In the lead-up to the re-opening Airservices provided a Flight Information Service from the Tower for several months so the Controllers could become familiar with the area and traffic patterns.

The building to the left of the Towers is the Flight Service Centre and Briefing Office. This was constructed earlier than the Tower, in about 1983. The FSC and BO also closed during the 1990s as part of a programme of consolidation of Flight Service units into the major Centres.

The portable Tower was later removed and re-assembled at Mangalore, Vic, as part of the proposed National Sport Aviation Centre. This never eventuated but the portable Tower remains there to this day (c.2010).


(Photo: David Eyre)

Click here to see some aerial photos of Karratha from the mid-1980s

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