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Health – Royal Flying Doctor Service

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Monday, 5 June 2023

Tags: Health, State Budget

Dr WOODRUFF - Hobart Airport is being upgraded. It is getting longer runways for flights from the Antarctic and elsewhere. In that period, it won't be useable at night, which means the Royal Flying Doctor Service won't be able to land with patients.

The Government, I understand, will have to use helicopters to move patients around the state instead of using the Royal Flying Services fixed wing planes. What is the likely additional cost to tax payers and the Health budget? How long is it going to go on for? How many extra flights can we expect at the Royal Hobart Hospital?

Mr ROCKLIFF - Thank you. I'll seek some advice on your question in terms of restricted runway access, which is the first part of your question, and the cost of.

Dr WOODRUFF - It is the cost, the number of extra helicopter flights that are expected at the Royal Hobart Hospital.

Mr ROCKLIFF - I see, helicopter flights as a result of fixed wing not being able to land in southern Tasmania.

Dr WOODRUFF - As I understand it, the RFDS lands at the airport and then patients are transferred to the Royal Hobart. And as I understand it, that won't happen and at night they will have to be moved by helicopter. Are you aware of this?

Mr ROCKLIFF - Thank you very much for the question. I am aware of the runway upgrade because that was a commitment of the federal government.

Mr WEBSTER - Obviously aware. But in relation to the exact number through this period, that's hard to calculate given that we don't pre plan these sorts of flights.

What we will do, and again, whether or not that adds to helicopter flights, generally speaking the helicopter is used for different reasons to the RFDS. They are two different services, if you like. The RFDS is more of a non-emergency retrieval rather than an emergency retrieval, overall. I'm not saying it isn't. We would have to work out, to answer your question, we can average it out and things like that but we will need to look at the detail that you've asked.

Dr WOODRUFF - Thank you. I can expect that you have very good figures on exactly how many flights landed in the last two years at Hobart Airport in dark hours. So, you would have a very good estimate at least of the last couple of years. Have you done any modelling of the cost to the taxpayer in the Budget for this? What is going to happen?

Mr WEBSTER - Obviously, Cambridge Airport takes smaller aircraft as well, so there could be an alternative there. The other side of it is because a lot of these flights are scheduled, there is the possibility of scheduling them to be during daylight hours.

Dr WOODRUFF - Can I put that question on notice about last year's and what your estimates are: have you done an estimate of the number of additional landings at the Royal Hobart Hospital by helicopter at night as a result of that and the cost?

Mr ROCKLIFF - We will seek further information, Dr Woodruff. Place that on notice.

Dr WOODRUFF - Premier, following up on my questions earlier about the extension to Hobart Airport and the -

Mr ROCKLIFF - The runway

Dr WOODRUFF - Yes, the runway and the impacts on the Royal Flying Doctor Service night landings.

Mr ROCKLIFF - I stand to be corrected, but it'd be the pavement, the quality of the pavement rather the extension.

Dr WOODRUFF - Whatever the problem is, I understand that -

Mr ROCKLIFF - Speaking of the pavement, because the runway extension's already been completed. This is about landing potentially international aircraft into Tasmania.

Dr WOODRUFF - Have you had any conversations with the Cambridge airport, which you mentioned before as the alternative to land RFDS flights there? I understand they received a federal government grant to repair their runway due to the impact of heavy firefighting aircraft. Could Cambridge handle RFDS traffic? You probably understand their fixed wing planes can also be reasonably large and heavy. There's also the possibility of an issue with low-intensity lighting at Cambridge airport in terms of its appropriateness for night landings?

Mr ROCKLIFF - I was out at Cambridge Airport the other day with a tourism announcement. The Leader of the Opposition was there as well. I didn't speak about the matters you have raised, with any representatives of the Cambridge Airport at that point in time. It was the first time I had visited the Cambridge Airport. Mr Emery, do you have anything to add?

Mr EMERY - Dr Woodruff, we will work closely with the Royal Flying Doctor Service, as we ordinarily do. We have runway maintenance that happens periodically at Hobart International Airport and we have a number of contingencies in place, including transferring patients by road as well as transferring patients by rotary wing or helicopter. That's not unusual for us. We will continue to work with RFDS on suitable options including the phasing or timing that those transfers might happen.

To Mr Webster's earlier point, we can focus on some of those scheduled flights not taking place overnight and coordinate arrangements around airport closures as we ordinarily do.