Gingin council defers request to use Beermullah airstrip

Topfun Aviation says it has third party insurance but the Shire of Gingin is concerned there might be a liability risk if it allows the flying school to use the Beermullah airstrip. Picture: Greenside Recreational Flyers Club

A FLYING school wanting to use Beermullah airstrip has had its application deferred due to the Shire of Gingin’s insurer raising concerns use of the airstrip may distract drivers on Brand Hwy and result in some liability exposure for the council.

Topfun Aviation wants permission to use the airstrip running alongside Brand Hwy on weekends and public holidays to provide flying training to recreational pilots who operate light sport aircraft.

The light aircraft only require a small runway to take off and land and at 38m wide the Beermullah airstrip exceeds the guidance rules for airstrip dimensions required by the aircraft type the Recreational Aviation Australia (RAAus) accredited flying training school uses.

In a letter to Shire of Gingin chief executive officer Aaron Cook in October last year Topfun Aviation chief flying instructor Jack Donsen said the flying training school already had an agreement in place with the Shire of Moora to use the Moora airstrip.

Mr Donsen said this was on the understanding that they maintained $10 million third party liability insurance and flew in accordance with Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) and RAAus rules.

He said he was happy to give the same commitment to the Shire of Gingin.

“Our operations are weekends and public holidays only as RAAF Pearce use the airspace mid-week and this fact prevents our use of the airspace when the RAAF are active,’’ he said.

Lot 7 Brand Hwy, Boonanarring is owned by the Shire of Gingin but the airstrip area is also opposite an important navigational aid for the Department of Defence which operates the Gingin satellite airfield and Pearce air base.

Also in 2017 a pilot from Pearce air base flying a PC9 used the Beermullah airstrip for an emergency landing on November 2.

The Department of Defence said Defence Aviation Area regulations (DAA regulations) provided a legal framework for controlling activities which may be dangerous to aviation around 12 declared DAAs, which includes the Beermullah airstrip.

A Department of Defence spokeswoman said the DAA regulations ensured the department had legislative planning authority to deny or condition the proposed installation of structures above certain heights and if they were deemed to adversely impact the safety of aircraft operations at Defence airfields within or adjacent to the declared DAAs.

“The regulations do not have any influence on whether an airfield can be used by Defence aircraft for emergency landings or not,’’ she said.

“Beermullah airstrip is located within the DAA for the Beermullah remote instrument landing system-tactical air navigation system site which was declared in 2018.

In November 2017 a PC9 pilot from Pearce air base used the Beermullah airstrip for an emergency landing. Picture: Department of Defence

“While located within this DAA, the regulations do not govern aviation operations at the Beermullah airstrip and impose no obligations on the Shire of Gingin to maintain the airstrip. “The regulations would only be applicable if the Shire of Gingin were to propose developments on the site which triggered the requirement for a referral to Defence in accordance with the requirements of the regulations.’’

The spokeswoman said in relation to insurance Defence’s use of the Beermullah airstrip would be covered under Defence’s general liability and aviation policies held with Comcover in the event that Defence was found legally liable for third party property or third party injury (subject to terms and conditions).

“In relation to the risk of a driver being distracted by a landing aircraft, legal advice would be sought to determine potential liability,’’ she said.

“If Defence was found to be liable, the Comcover policies would apply.’’

The Shire of Gingin officer’s report said the easiest way to negate the associated risk of allowing external users to use the airstrip was to not allow use of it in the first place.

The report said as requested by the council at its March 17, 2020 meeting, the shire’s insurer LGIS was contacted to provide advice pertaining to potential liability risk associated with private use of the Beermullah airstrip.

“LGIS conducted a site visit on May 4, 2020 and provided the shire with their findings,’’ the report said.

“The airstrip is a legacy from World War II, so the shire is not obligated to maintain or operate the airstrip for the benefit of any agency, including the RAAF.

“However, in the event that a person is injured or killed whilst driving on the Brand Hwy as a result of being distracted by aircraft landing, there may in some instances be a corresponding liability risk to the shire.

“LGIS have noted that there is no notable upside to the shire in formally allowing the use of the airstrip but there is some liability exposure should an incident occur at the site, even with an agreement in place.

“It is therefore recommended that the council refuse the request to enter into an agreement with Topfun Aviation to allow private use of the Beermullah airstrip.’’

At its June 16 ordinary meeting councillor Linda Balcombe moved and councillor Frank Johnson seconded a motion that the council refuse to enter into an agreement with Topfun Aviation to use the Beermullah airstrip.

Councillor Frank Peczka then moved a procedural motion seconded by deputy president Kim Rule that the matter be referred to a future council meeting in order for staff to obtain further information for the council’s consideration – the motion was  carried unanimously.

Greenside Recreational Flyers Club (GRFC) operates from Brand Hwy in Muchea.

The club’s vice chairman Michael Byrne said the Beermullah airstrip was only 12km from Gingin.

Mr Byrne said airstrips like Beermullah were important to preserve as there were few general and recreational airstrips around that were not privately owned.