TAMWORTH faces an agonising wait of up to 16 months to learn if it will retain the lucrative basic flight training school contract.
The office of Defence Minister David Johnston has said a decision will not be made public until mid-2015 despite the tender closing on Monday.
The revelation has angered local civic and business leaders and means the school’s 140 direct employees could endure a lengthy period of uncertainty over their jobs.
Tamworth is facing stiff competition from Sale in Victoria for the right to continue hosting pilot training for the Australian Defence Force (ADF) beyond 2017.
BAE Systems Australia has been running the training program in Tamworth since 1992. The contract is worth an estimated $2 billion over 25 years.
Tamworth mayor Col Murray said the lengthy delay would put enormous pressure on the workers at the flight training school.
“I’m probably at a bit of a loss to understand how it might take that long,” he said.
“I understand this is a very long-term contract and the value of the tender is very high.
“I would suggest that it’s a fairly unenviable way to have to consider your future, and I certainly empathise with the employees of BAE and all the suppliers.
“But I guess this is the way that defence needs to work. There’s a very large amount of public money involved ... and I guess we hope that it’s done with all due diligence and care.” Tamworth Business Chamber president Tim Coates said if the worst case scenario eventuated and the contract was lost, then the city needed time to make alternative plans.
“We would need as much lead time as possible to find an alternate use for the airport and that would be easier to organise now or in six months’ time than in 16 months’ time,” he said.
“You can’t afford to lose any industry or any employee no matter how large or small – and this is a significant employer.”
Meanwhile, New England MP Barnaby Joyce, who has led numerous delegations of local stakeholders to Canberra to lobby for its retention, said he was quietly confident the decision would go Tamworth’s way.
“I have been encouraged by the response that we’ve been getting,” he said.
“I always know when I’ve been getting a bad response and I certainly haven’t been getting one of those.
“It’s already there and working and if something’s already there and working then that’s a very good reason to leave it there.”