Rio in $10m RFDS pledge

Peter Williams

Mining giant Rio Tinto has pledged $10 million to help the Royal Flying Doctor Service buy a new fleet of jets for its WA operations.

The RFDS is contracted to introduce from 2017 up to four Pilatus PC24 planes with a price tag of $12.4 million each.

Rio has contributed $12.5 million to the service over the past decade, including funding the Life Flight jet, a Hawker 800XP plane which has been carrying patients across the State since 2009.

RFDS WA chief executive Grahame Marshall said the jet had evacuated almost 1500 patients, mostly from the Kimberley and Pilbara regions.

Iron ore chief executive Andrew Harding said he had personally experienced the work of the flying doctors 17 years ago in the Pilbara when his wife Jen went into labour five weeks early with their daughter Nicole.

"Karratha hospital was not able to handle such a premature baby," Mr Harding said.

"The RFDS was called in and we were flown to Port Hedland. Everything else went well and Nicole is in her second last year of school."

Rio's latest donation makes it a founding member of the RFDS' Aero Medical Fund, a $50 million campaign being launched today to help bankroll the new jets, a flight simulator and a new base in Broome.