It’s carried more than 670,000 passengers, ferried more than 1.6 million kilograms of freight, covered more than 8.6 million kilometres and even been chartered for trips to the AFL grand final in Melbourne.
But this week marks the end of an era in WA aviation, when the last of Cobham Aviation’s British Aerospace 146 aircraft makes its final fly-in, fly-out (FIFO) flight from Minara Resources’ Murrin Murrin operation in the Goldfields.
In peak times, there were 16 of the BAe 146 operating across the State after they first started flying in WA in 1985. But the plane registered as VH-NJY (technically an Avro RJ100, a descendant of the original BAe 146) was the last still in use after an 11-year career for Cobham flying to regional sites.
“It’s a much-loved aircraft by passengers and crew alike and has been a workhorse of regional aviation in WA for many years,” Cobham’s Business Development Director Tim Pirga said.
“The BAe 146 family have proved extremely versatile due to their short take-off and landing capacity and low noise profile, and they have been particularly popular on short-to-medium haul flights to regional destinations.”
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The BAe 146 would be instantly recognisable to WA travellers and aviation enthusiasts due to its distinctive four low-slung jet engines sitting under the wings and a T-shaped tail.
Affectionately known as “The Whisper Jet” because of its low noise profile, the BAe 146 was able to be fitted with gravel kits to allow it to land on remote sites with unpaved runways – something Cobham did for several of its fleet.
Cobham’s fleet supported FIFO contracts with other clients such BHP and Rio Tinto, undertook QantasLink passenger services and was involved in charters to Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, China, Vietnam, East Timor and Papua New Guinea.
But it’s somewhat fitting that VH-NJY undertakes the final voyage to Murrin Murrin, given the site’s long history with the BAe 146 and the fact that it produces nickel, a commodity that was an integral part of the construction of the aircraft.
As it turns out, the incoming Q400s and E190s that will replace the BAe 146 have alloys that also contain both nickel and the other metal produced at Murrin Murrin: cobalt.
At just over an hour, the flight to Murrin Murrin is one of the fastest FIFO commutes out of Perth.
“Minara was a foundation client of Cobham and a pioneer of FIFO in the WA resources sector,” Pirga said.
“There are many FIFO aviation leaders and managers in WA that started their careers supporting Cobham BAe 146/RJ100 operations for Murrin Murrin.
“FIFO charter flights and aerodrome services are now a key enabler for the WA resources industry and Cobham and Murrin Murrin operations were there from the start.”
VH-NJY was due to be given a water cannon salute on the completion of its final FIFO flight.
Murrin Murrin is operated by Minara Resources, which is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Glencore.
Located 45km east of Leonora, the mine opened in 1999 and extracts, processes and refines nickel and cobalt to produce London Metal Exchange-grade briquettes of both commodities on site.