End of the Pipeline: Virgin Australia 737 to Kalgoorlie
In the 1890s the discovery of gold had drawn to Western Australia thousands of people seeking their fortune. The problem was that while the gold appeared plentiful, safe and reliable drinking water was not. How about capturing water in the hills near Perth and pumping it to the goldfields?
In 1895, a plan involving the construction of a dam, a pipeline and pumping stations along its route was drawn up by the Chief Engineer C. Y. O'Connor. His proposal faced considerable opposition in the Western Australian Parliament but was eventually agreed to. The weir was constructed across the Helena River valley between 1898 and 1903, and today it is a strategic source of public drinking water for the Goldfields and Agricultural Water Supply Scheme and the Perth Integrated Water Supply Scheme.
With a catchment area covering some 1,470 square kilometres, the reservoir has a capacity of 63.6 million kilolitres. The dam wall is 308 metres long and rises 42 metres above the river bed. During periods of peak demand, both ground and desalinated water is pumped into the reservoir. The Weir and its gardens have become a popular picnic spot and there is a museum in the old Number One pumping station, as well as memorials to O'Connor and the men who built the scheme.
But what happens to the water when it gets to the goldfields? To find out, I decided on a day trip to Kalgoorlie. This report covers the outbound flight with Virgin Australia.
As usual, I had booked on line and once I received an email advice that check-in was open, printed boarding passes. On arrival at Terminal 1 Domestic, a quick check of the destination boards indicated that my flight would leave from Gate 47A. Etihad? The flight is code-shared with Etihad, Air New Zealand and Singapore Airlines.
Up the escalator and through security, the terminal houses a number of retail and food outlets. A young women at a wine store approached, asking would I like to try some. It was a bit early in the day for me, so I declined.
Out on the apron of nearby Terminal 2 was a line up that included several Virgin Australia Regional and Alliance Airlines tails, mainly Fokker 100. At Gate 46, another Fokker 100 was parked. This would operate the 10:40 departure to Karratha.
When looking to book an excursion, I try to find an itinerary that includes different aircraft types and/ or carriers. The last time I flew to Kalgoorlie it was with QantasLink, outbound on a Network Aviation liveried Fokker 100 and inbound on a Cobham Aviation Boeing 717. For this trip I chose to fly Virgin as I could fly out on a Boeing 737-700 and fly back on an Airbus A320. A look through the window showed the aircraft being fueled and prepared.
VH-EBC taxied out on departure as Qantas Flight QF642 to Sydney. This aircraft was originally named Gold Coast - Tweed but was subsequently named Surfers Paradise. Did I mention that at one time it was in service with Jetstar?
A BAe 146-300 followed out. With its four Avco Lycoming ALF507-1H engines, G-6-217 first flew at Woodford, UK on December 23, 1991. At one time it flew for QantasLink, its last service being from Mt Keith to Perth. Currently with Cobham Aviation Services, it operates a range of private and mining charters.
Not everyone was leaving. Here we see the arrival of a Fokker 100, still in the old Skywest livery. Originally ordered by Pan Am and not taken up, after flying for TAM Linhas Aéreas and Mexican Click, VH-FZO was ferried Woensdrecht - Trabazon - Al Ain - Nagpur - Penang - Halim - Perth and entered into the Australian registry in March, 2012.
Back at Gate 47A boarding was announced. Premium and Velocity members were invited to board first. Then the remaining passengers were called, with a reminder to have their boarding passes ready and for electronic devices to be in flight mode. As my printed boarding pass was scanned, I was wished a pleasant journey.
Flight: Virgin Australia VA1851 Perth - Kalgoorlie
Aircraft Type: Boeing 737-700 | Seat: 18F
Aircraft ID: VH-VBZ "Cronulla Beach"
STD: 10:45 | ATD: 10:41
STA: 11:50 | ATA: 11:40
Powered by CFM International CFM56-7B20 engines and fitted with winglets, this aircraft used to fly in the old Virgin Blue livery under the corny name of "Maliblue". It departed Boeing Field on its delivery flight on 30 August 2005, routing Seattle - Lihue/Hawaii - Noumea - Brisbane as DJ9081. In January 2015 it was ferried to Townsville for maintenance and repainting, during which it was renamed "Cronulla Beach".
Passing through the Business cabin, I made my way towards the rear and seat 18F. Kay was looking after this part of the cabin and she told me that it was her first flight on the 737-700. She also told me that I'd be able to spread out as only twenty-seven passengers would be on board.
First impressions were positive. The cabin appeared to be generally clean and bright, although there was the odd stain here and there. In the Economy cabin seat pitch is 31" and width is 17". No problems for me as I am neither very tall nor overweight and today it wouldn't have mattered anyway.
Overhead was the panel with reading lights, ventilation controls, crew call button and the seatbelt and no smoking signs. In the arm rest was an audio-video control but on this aircraft there were no in-seat displays. Passengers could receive Wi-Fi streamed entertainment if they installed a Virgin Australia app.
The Captain introduced himself, saying that we would probably be arriving into Kalgoorlie a few minutes early and that the Flight Officer would be flying the aircraft. A further announcement would be made by him shortly before descent. The aircraft pushed back about four minutes early as "Cabin crew, arm doors and cross check," was ordered. Once standing away from the pier, Kay took up position by my row for the safety briefing, cheerfully commenting that she only had two passengers to attend to.
"To remind yourself … consult the safety card in the seat back pocket." Dutifully, I did this and found it to be a bit grubby from use and the odd spill.
All final checks performed, clearance from the ground received, "Cronulla Beach" began to move forward, making its way to Taxiway Charlie. It turned into Charlie 9 and paused briefly before entering the runway.
Take off was to the north on Runway 3. As forward thrust was applied I felt the seat in my back as the aircraft powered past the terminals, lifting just after passing the cross runway.
The initial ascent took us over the Swan Valley and past Midland before the plane "turned right" (to quote the Captain from his introductory announcement). It was a smooth ascent with barely a hint that we were passing over Greenmount Hill.
In the distance the waters of the Helena River, held back by Mundaring Weir, could be seen. Further on, we passed over one of a number of quarries where metal is mined for use in road building and construction.
Continuing east, the course took us over the town of Northam — one of the first towns to be established following the founding of the Swan River Colony in 1829 — and Cunderdin. The latter has been proposed as the location a diversion airport for Perth, capable of handling up to an A380. It is claimed as being designed to cut airline fuel costs while attracting new airlines to the state because of the significant operational safety benefits it will offer.
Given the existing field has virtually no facilities and abuts an ephemeral salt lake, I remain unconvinced unless the proponent can sucker up the taxpayer into guaranteeing the scheme. If the airlines didn't even wish to pay for a third runway in Perth, I can't see them being too keen on funding a completely new airport.
Following activity in the galley, it was announced that a "light refreshment" together with tea and coffee would be offered shortly. Additional snacks and beverages listed in the in-flight menu could be purchased.
"Light" would certainly describe the refreshment offering. On this morning's flight it consisted of a 20g muesli biscuit. On a recent flight to Albany (of similar duration and comparable fare) Regional Express provided a 35g muesli bar and even a second cup of coffee. I mentioned this in the feed back survey Virgin sent me following the flight. I did question whether once a snack becomes so small and the priority is cost-reduction, would it not be better to scrap it altogether?
Once the waste was collected, as it had clouded over, I decided to leaf through the in-flight magazine. The main feature was Hong Kong but there were other articles about Virgin and its partner airlines, its destinations and aircraft in the fleet.
The remaining flight was uneventful bar some minor turbulence as we passed over areas of denser cloud. Occasionally the reflection of the 737 could be seen in the clouds below, surrounded by a halo.
The Flight Officer announced that we were about to commence descent and that he expected to be able to have us deplaning about ten minutes ahead of schedule. In the cabin, a further announcement about stowing large electronic devices and baggage, returning seats to the upright position, tables secured and the window shades completely up. Flaps were extended to reduce altitude.
As we passed over areas of mining and lined up with the runway, from the flight deck: "Cabin crew, please take your seats for landing. The ground drew ever closer: the buildings grew ever larger.
Crossing the threshold, "Cronulla Beach" put down on Runway 11, spoilers deployed to assist with breaking. The landing was gentle, although I could feel the deceleration and hear the change in engine sounds as reverse thrust was applied.
There is no parallel taxiway so arriving aircraft need to turn about when they reach the end of the runway and use the runway itself as the taxiway. As VH-VBZ did so, spoilers were lowered and the flaps were retracted. Overhead, the sky looked a bit threatening.
As the aircraft taxied to the terminal, the captain welcomed us to Kalgoorlie and advised that deplaning would be by the front door only. Passengers who were continuing on to Melbourne would need to disembark, proceed through security and reboard the aircraft.
As the plane turned into taxiway B, the man with the lollipops guided the pilot in control to the stand in front of Gate 2. A chair lift was waiting to assist one passenger. Steps would be brought up to door for everyone else.
While waiting for the cabin door to be opened, I managed to capture a couple of shots of light aircraft in the general aviation area. The mesa-like structures in the distance are not natural land forms but tailing dumps from mine workings.
Before leaving the aircraft I was able to thank Kay and her colleagues for a pleasant flight. Indeed it had been. The ever friendly crew and a smooth flight had combined with a slightly early arrival. The low load on this sector might give rise to concern among the bean counters but (who knows?) on the continuation the revenues may have been higher. Either way, more space is always welcome. The only disappointing feature was the well-scratched window which made for difficult photography.