THE federal defence minister has given the most positive indication yet the city may be a frontrunner in the race for the lucrative basic flight training school contract.
Tamworth leaders took the fight to retain the contract to the top on Wednesday, holding high-level talks in Canberra with Defence Minister David Johnston.
Mayor Col Murray, council general manager Paul Bennett, Tamworth MP Kevin Anderson and New England MP Barnaby Joyce led a delegation of locals as the campaign to keep the facility intensifies.
The post-2016 contract for the Australian Defence Force school, run by BAE Systems Australia and worth an estimated $2 billion to the local economy over the next 25 years, is the subject of an intense tug-of-war between Tamworth and East Sale.
But despite lingering fears East Sale may have the “inside running”, the local contingent left Wednesday’s meeting with a spring in their step.
“He gave us a very positive response and listened very carefully,” Mr Anderson said.
“He seemed very disposed to regional investment and said he was keen to preserve the footprint of defence in NSW.
“It gave me great hope we’re on the right track with our bid.”
It comes after The Leader last month revealed a $21 million upgrade to the runway at Tamworth airport had emerged as a key factor in winning the contract.
Cr Murray said the meeting was a confidence-booster for the Tamworth bid.
“I walked out of there with more comfort than I walked in with,” Cr Murray said.
“Three times he said ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’. Having Barnaby there, as a government front bencher, really enhanced it for us too.”
The flight training school supports more than 100 jobs in the city.
A spokesman for the defence minister would not be drawn on how Tamworth’s bid for the contract was placed.
“During talks, the minister acknowledged the strong support of the community of Tamworth to defence and their capacity to continue that support into the future,” he said.
“However, as this matter is now the subject of open tender, it would be improper to provide any further commentary.”
Tenders close on February 16.