Strategic Futurists; Value Systems Specialists

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Remote Mining poses challenges for Australian Airlines

Monday 6 February 2012

There's a shift underway in the mining industry that will likely catch Australian airlines out if they aren't paying attention - the shift toward 'remote' mining. Remote mining is being pushed by the automation ability across all aspects of current mining technology, which at the basic level, means that fewer humans are needed on site in mines. And that suggests a major challenge for airline companies of all sizes, who've come to rely on the FIFO (fly in and fly out) model of human capability delivery to mines across Australia. The technology advancements are across almost all aspects of mining operations with perhaps just one area (maintenance) still likely to need onsite human capabilities.

The non human automatic technology advances are quite stunning in their scope.  Right now technolgy for remote explosives placement and detonation; extraction (digging or shovelling); loading and transportation are all on the cards or well down the patrh to development.  What that means is that there's far less requirement for truck drivers, load operators or explosive expertise in the human form.

Instead, and in much the same way as an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) is controlled from some far distant shore using satellite and where needed canera technology, we can expect the mine of the future to be remote and unmanned. And if you don't need people, you don't need airlines which means the highly profitable regional routes that have developed over the past seven years suddenly become redundant.  Planning by airlines must consider the impact of a profit stream evaporating as quickly as a pool of water in the Pilbara sunshine.

The challenge also begins to impact on the property speculators who've been snapping up shacks and homes in mining towns in the idea of obtaining a quick turnaround - without the onsite employees, the remote and regional housing bubble also pops, only with a bit more of a loud BANG.

The remote off site mining control starts to lower the impact of FIFO on local towns and economies where locals can't afford to live in their own houses and food prices and other commodities spike in response to profit opportuniuties being captured by local businesses.  The automated mining approach does suggest some other benefits to the Australian economy however - all those plumbing, bricklaying, electrical and other trade apprentices who left low paying entry roles will have to give up driving their mining trucks and go back to their earlier career paths.  And that might see the delays in construction activity in both the commercial and domestic sectors begin to shrink as more capacity comes online.


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