Kalgoorlie's HeARTwalk: VA Regional A320 to Perth
In the previous report End of the Pipeline: Virgin Australia 737 to Kalgoorlie I described the outbound flight. This report will cover the return to Perth on the Airbus A320-200.
Paddy Hannon is credited with first discovering gold in Kalgoorlie and he is honoured with a street statue that serves as a drinking-water fountain. It is a replica of the original, which is displayed in the Town Hall.
Gold mining continues to be a major provider of employment and the town also serves as a base for exploration and development of other minerals, including among others nickel, copper and lithium. After surface gold had been depleted, deep shafts appeared all over the goldfields but today the dominant feature is the Super Pit. This open cut mine is about 3.5km long, 1.5km wide and over 570m deep. Over 470 haul trucks are used in the operations that run 24 hours a day. The rock is drilled and primed with explosives and then blasted. The rock is then carted to be crushed and processed to extract the gold.
It is still possible to find nuggets of gold, although much of the area is leased to mining companies and you should check before trying your luck. Here are a couple of samples and a look at what a bar of gold bullion looks like. Both are displayed in the vault at the WA Museum of the Goldfields.
Mining has its ups and downs as demand and price fluctuate. Recently things haven't been the best and businesses in town have suffered. Many shops closed and were boarded up. But it isn't all doom, gloom and despond.
Local community groups came up with the idea of using those boarded up shop fronts as a venue for public arts. So HeARTwalk was born. Both local and international artists were invited to contribute to the project in an effort to revitalise and inject some pride into the city.
While most works draw on local themes, using both traditional and indigenous modes, this painting is one that stands out.
This one, for some inexplicable reason, reminds me of a Senator from Queensland.
This diptych captures the joy and innocence of children splashing in puddles after rains have broken a period of drought.
The time came to return to the airport. Operated by the City of Kalgoorlie-Boulder, Kalgoorlie Airport has two runways: Runway 11/29, the main runway, is 2000 metres x 45 metres while Runway 18/36 is 1200 metres x 18 metres. There are two terminals: the main terminal is open during operational hours for RPT flights. The general aviation terminal is open for pilots and passengers 24 hours per day. Both Qantas and Virgin Australia offer RPT flights and there are check-in desks for both airlines. Airport car parking is free for up to 24 hours.
Given the current concerns over aviation security and the risks of terrorism, I'm not sure that the placing of these advertising signs is well considered.
"I see that you have your ticket. Did you remember to pack your explosives, Sir?"
As aircraft capable of carrying over 50 passengers are used, passengers need to go through screening. I must say that when I went through the staff were friendly and cheerful, ready to share a joke but still thorough. It just goes to show that a job can be done without being either rude or officious.
As we can see from the departures and arrivals board, Kalgoorlie-Boulder Airport isn't the world's busiest. Qantas and Virgin Australia have three daily services Monday to Friday and two on Saturday and Sunday, with Virgin offering a flight between Kalgoorlie and Melbourne on Friday and returning on Sunday.
The flight back to Perth was operated by Virgin Australia Regional, formerly Skywest (XR). VAR operates a number of routes in regional New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland and to Canberra. Here in Western Australia towns like Karratha, Paraburdoo, Kununurra are served and a number of mining charters are operated. The fleet based in Perth consists of 17 Fokker 100 and a couple of Airbus A320-200. The incoming A320 for this evening's flight arrived on time.
Exiting Taxiway B, the plane turned in towards stand 2, guided by the man with the table tennis bats.
Round to your right and a bit forward...
Whoa! That'll do nicely.
Once the aircraft was in position the chocks were secured in place and other ground crew could set about their tasks.
The steps were brought out to the aircraft. After a bit of toing and froing, they were correctly aligned with the door.
Knock and the door shall be opened, or so it appears. Before anything else could happen, the necessary paperwork was exchanged.
Finally, the arriving passengers were able to deplane and make their way across the apron to the terminal. Meanwhile the bags were being unloaded.
Flight: Virgin Australia VA1858 Kalgoorlie - Perth
Operated by Virgin Australia Regional
Aircraft Type: Airbus A320-200 | Seat: 20F
Aircraft ID: VH-YUD "Port Beach"
STD: 18:15 | ATD: 18:15
STA: 19:30 | ATA: 19:19
Powered by two IAE V2527-A5 engines, this aircraft first flew with the registration F-WWBX on 19 December 2002. During its service life it has flown as G-MEDH with British Mediterranean, bmi British Midland and BA, before coming to VAR on 18 April 2013. After being delivered to Perth on 7 May 2013, VH-YUD sat in open storage. On 16 September 2013, it made a test flight from Perth to overhead Albany and back. On 23 September 2013, the aircraft made its first revenue service for Virgin Australia Regional Airlines, flying Perth to Newman and return. More recently, it has been used on flights to destinations like Boolgeeda and to Christmas and Cocos (Keeling) Islands. It is configured Y162 and named Port Beach.
I was able to snap a shot before entering the cabin. A friendly welcome from the crew as I made my way down to row 20, where I had a window seat.
The seats were a bit firm but the pitch was reasonable at 31". Width was a generous 17.8" and I couldn't fail to notice the fresh white antimacassars bearing the Virgin Australia logo. That was a contrast to this morning's 737 inbound.
The loading on this flight was certainly going to be higher than the outbound flight this morning. Window and aisle seats appeared to be full but several middle seats remained empty, including the one next to me.
While the cabin continued to fill, I looked around the seat which bore the name Recaro. There were printed reminders to keep the seat belt fastened while seated and that the life vest was under the seat. A quick check confirmed that it was.
The Captain made an announcement that they were just waiting on some paperwork and the late arrival of a passenger. An early arrival into Perth had been agreed to by ATC, so they would wait "exactly four and a half minutes" and if the passenger was a no-show, they would close the doors and leave without him.
While final preparations for our departure were made, the Qantas arrival from Perth pulled in alongside. Recently returned from maintenance in Canberra, VH-NXL originally flew with TWA and American Airlines as N426TW. It subsequently flew with QantasLink and Jetstar as VH-VQG before ending up with National Jet Systems (now Cobham Aviation Services) and received its current registration.
The Captain announced that the last passenger had failed to appear so the cabin door was closed and we were about to get underway. The safety briefing commenced and I noticed that unlike the ones this morning, the safety cards were laminated. I guess that while they may initially cost more that way, the protection offered prolongs useful life and that they require less frequent replacement.
Port Beach made its way to the runway and taxied to the end, turning around for take off. Forward thrust as it rolled past the terminal, lifting into the night sky. Behind us were the city lights and below us the lit up mine workings, operating 24 hours a day.
Some minutes later, following a brief announcement, the cabin crew divided themselves into two teams. The first came through the cabin offering a snack and serviette and asked whether passengers would like tea or coffee. If so, they were given a paper beaker. The second team followed with the drinks trolley, serving cold beverages: water and fruit juices were complimentary while beer, wine and soft drinks could be purchased.
Once the trolleys were out of the way, crew began walking through with pots of coffee or tea. It appeared the latter was more popular from the number of refills that were brought out.
The darkness was punctuated occasionally by a mine site or small town. This part of the state is sparsely populated, even in the wheatbelt east of Merredin. Between Kalgoorlie and Southern Cross is pastoral country, covered by trees and scrub.
As you approach the Darling Scarp, the lights of Perth's suburbs can be seen stretching out to the north. Once over the scrap, the coastal plain and Swan Valley are in clear view. The city lights are something many residents from Perth look forward to seeing when they return from places like Singapore and Dubai.
As the flaps were extended, it was possible to see the lit up houses and streets below through the gaps.
As we approached the runway, the towering office blocks in the city were visible. The aircraft passed over the junction of Great Eastern Highway and Kalamunda Road, crossing the airport perimeter and passing the general aviation area to land on Runway 21.
Exiting the runway at Charlie 9, Port Beach taxied past maintenance hangars and the stands in front of Terminal 2 Domestic. A number aircraft with Virgin Australia and Alliance Airlines were bedding down for the night.
Arriving at Terminal 1 Domestic, the aircraft turned into the stand at gate 47A, the same stand from which I had left this morning. The Captain thanked everyone for choosing to fly Virgin Australia. The passengers were well behaved, all waiting patiently until the seat belt sign was extinguished before leaving their seats. Meanwhile, the baggage handling cart pulled alongside.
I was able to have a brief chat with the crew at the door before alighting. After commenting on the better load this evening, the crew told me that there had only been thirty passengers on the outbound flight. I guess it is a Friday and most people would be heading up to the city, rather than out to the bush.
It was quiet in the terminal. At this time of the evening there aren't that many flights departing and any arriving passengers wouldn't be hanging about. Still, the food outlets were still open and they did have some customers. They would stay open until the red-eye departures to Sydney and Melbourne had gone.
As all I had was the carry-on with my camera, I made my way down the escalators and through baggage reclaim to exit the terminal. It was just a few steps to a waiting taxi and the short drive home. I had enjoyed my excursion to Kalgoorlie and was pleasantly impressed by the service on today's flights. While the in-flight refreshments are small compared to their rivals, Virgin Australia's crews were friendly and willing to chat. The other thing, unlike on some previous flights the aircraft cabins were clean. So yes, a good day all round.