Regional centres battle for Qantas pilot academy
31/08/2018 | Author: Robyn Ironside, The Australian Business Review
Nine regional centres are pulling out all stops to attract a prize they believe will deliver international recognition, as well as hundreds of jobs and a major economic boost.
In a fierce battle normally associated with Olympic hosting rights, the towns are competing for one of two Qantas pilot training academies.
With the international pilot shortage starting to bite, the academies are considered an important initiative by the airline and one that will attract interest from aviators worldwide.
In an effort to increase their chances, the towns and cities are using everything from nostalgia to the offer of custom-built facilities to attract the $10 million apiece investment.
The Northern Territory has suggested Qantas put the NT back into the airline and locate the academy in Alice Springs, while Busselton in Western Australia has offered to build a new airport terminal should the academy come its way.
Tamworth has emphasised the town’s long association with pilot training dating back to World War II, and Launceston has campaigned on a platform of isolation and clear open skies.
But they could all be blindsided by Toowoomba’s bid, which comes with a $55m commitment from the local Wagner family to create a new facility on the site of their Wellcamp Airport.
Toowoomba Mayor Paul Antonio said he was “very confident” in the outcome, as a result of having the Wagners on board.
“I’ve seen the Wagner family’s submission and it’s amazing — what they’re prepared to do to get this for the region,” Mr Antonio said. “I have a bit of a feeling we’ll do well.”
While Qantas is remaining tight-lipped ahead of the announcement in a few weeks, other centres are not giving up.
Tamworth Mayor Col Murray said a Qantas pilot training academy would fill the gap left by the Defence Force, which had relocated its pilot training to Sale in Victoria. “If Qantas was to select Tamworth, that would reinstate the business (of pilot training),” Mr Murray said. “There’s lots of capacity at the airport and we have very good flying conditions.”
Wagga Wagga Mayor Greg Conkey conceded that Toowoomba and Tamworth had “strong cases”. “But we’d consider ourselves to be the dark horse,” Mr Conkey said.
“It’s a tough decision for (Qantas) but it’s encouraging they’ve decided to have two locations.”
Bendigo Mayor Margaret O’Rourke said the town’s liveability was its greatest strength, and it offered good job prospects for the families and partners of the flight instructors.
“We have world-class health facilities, the headquarters of Bendigo and Adelaide Bank, and substantial industry,” Ms O’Rourke said.
“Bendigo also has 320 clear air days a year, uncongested airspace and a newly upgraded runway.”
On the other side of the country, Busselton Mayor Grant Henley said there were obvious benefits for Qantas in locating one of its academies in the west.
“They see (this academy) as attracting significant demand from Asia, where a lot of that huge shortfall in pilots is going to emanate from,” Mr Henley said.
“We’re in the same timezone and in reasonable proximity to those communities where they’re looking at sourcing pilots from in the future and who can afford to undertake that training.
“We think that’s certainly a bonus for us.”
Mackay Regional Mayor Greg Williamson said the whole community of Mackay, the most northern destination in the running, was excited to be short-listed for the academy.
“This is a good stake in the ground for regional Australia and good on Qantas for making that move to put regional Australia back on the map,” Mr Williamson said.
“We just hope the Q that does stand for Queensland in Qantas is firmly back in place when they announce the outcome.”