Flying passengers out to cocktail hour against Bali’s beautiful beachside sunsets, to a cosmopolitan supper in Singapore, breakfast by London’s Big Ben, or a concert in New York City is all part of the busy schedule at Port Hedland International Airport (PHIA) — a Western Australian gem that Mitchell Cameron has been polishing up since he came on board last year.
From Karratha to Port Hedland
Mitchell was hired for the CEO and Managing Director position based on his demonstrated ability to redevelop an airport in a challenging regional and remote location — Australia’s North West. After leading the Karratha Airport team through an extensive redevelopment, Mitchell was an impressive candidate when PHIA’s consortium parties came knocking looking for someone to grow PHIA, the state’s most important point of connectivity north of Perth. “During their visit to Karratha, I showed them around the terminal redevelopment and they suggested I might like to consider coming to Port Hedland and ‘doing the same’ for them there,” says Mitchell.
Torn between plans he had made with his wife to move back to their home in eastern Australia, and the allure of being able to work for a commercially focused and experienced Board with airport acumen, Mitchell spent time reflecting and deliberating before he accepted the appointment to lead the management team in December last year. He stepped into the role convinced his experience as a senior airport executive would allow him to make the best use of his strengths and hasn’t looked back.
“I have been blessed to have worked with people that have invested their own knowledge and experience in my capabilities” says Mitchell, who has already made headway to delivering on the strategic goals set under the terms of a 50-year lease, which saw the operation and development of the airport formally transition from the Town of Port Hedland to PHIA Group in March 2016.
Gateway to the Pilbara
Quickly homing in on the airport’s point of difference, Mitchell has promoted PHIA with the slogan ‘Gateway to the Pilbara’ with a key development goal to “change people’s travel thinking”. He says, “We want everyone in the Pilbara and surrounding regions to consider flying via PHIA to the eastern states of Australia, internationally to Bali, onward through to other parts of Asia and the rest of the world.” Mitchell says there are people who are still surprised to learn it is quicker to fly to Asia from PHIA than it is to fly from Perth. “You have to fly down and back over PHIA and that just doesn’t make sense – it adds 5 hours flying time. Instead of that additional flying time you could be on the beach in Bali sipping a drink.”
Growing and strengthening community
Investing in regional Australia, Mitchell has set about building his team, which will be dedicated to growing the airport and upgrading capital works according to a AU$40 million spending plan which will take PHIA through to March 2021 and includes a terminal upgrade to IATA international standard for 700,000 passengers while keeping the airport fully functional. Mitchell’s team includes experienced members, who bring a wealth of knowledge about the airport, as well as new recruits with new skills and ideas. “One of the challenges of working in regional and remote areas is to engage and retain great staff,” Mitchell concedes, gratified to see everyone working together productively. “We’re already achieving some of our initial targets and strategic goals and the plans we have to prosper the airport will see marked changes in the community in terms of facilities and air travel options,” Mitchell says.
The strength and progression of the Pilbara is integral to PHIA’s vision to make the most of its position as an important regional connection. “We aim to make the community of Port Hedland proud by being one of Australia’s best regional airports; the Pilbara’s Airport Hub and the gateway to the North West,” says Mitchell. “We’re achieving this by providing an experience to every customer that is safe, reliable, welcoming and comfortable. And connections to the eastern states and international ports.”
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