DEFENCE industry adviser Ken Gillespie is backing Tamworth all the way, saying the regional city is the best place for the Air 5428 defence contract, following a meeting of stakeholders yesterday.
The former lieutenant general was one of 11 people at the meeting, which included representatives from contract holders BAE Systems, NSW Trade and Investment, the Tamworth Business Chamber and Tamworth Regional Council.
The Basic Flight Training School contract will end in 2015, but Tamworth is already pushing to keep the service, which provides 74 fulltime jobs, 25 subcontractor jobs and 47 defence personnel in Tamworth.
Mr Gillespie said while there had been a strong push to have the 25-year, $2 billion Air 5428 contract operate out of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) base in East Sale, Victoria, he’d be pushing to keep it at Tamworth.
The flight school injects between $25 million and $35 million into the local economy each year, equivalent to half of the Tamworth Country Music Festival.
Mr Gillespie said the tender document was biased in suggesting the contract be moved to Victoria.
The move would impact training organisations, the housing market, education and other flight services in Tamworth.
“What we’ve seen is a unified view that we need to do something to protect what we’ve got here,” Mr Gillespie said.
“The move could be a waste of infrastructure, but it could cost the local community with that infrastructure being empty.”
Tamworth Business Chamber president Tim Coates said the flight school wasn’t just about the pilots, but their partners and families.
“It brings a whole range of people to Tamworth, whether they’re doctors, lawyers, teachers or stay-at-home mums,” Mr Coates said.
He said the number of flying days at Tamworth – 134 compared to East Sale’s 55 flying days – should help Tamworth’s bid for the contract.
Tamworth fought to keep its flying school when the previous contract ended in December 2011.
A petition of 7000 signatures supporting the retention of the flight training school helped win the bid. Mr Coates said this bid would need the support of local, state and federal governments.
“This is a real opportunity for the election candidates to stand up for their electorate,” he said.