Tamworth aviation sector calls for certainty amid pilot academy games

FLYING IN: Just days after landing on the pilot academy shortlist, QantasLink chief executive John Gissing will touch down in town.
FLYING IN: Just days after landing on the pilot academy shortlist, QantasLink chief executive John Gissing will touch down in town.

THE games have well-and-truly begun with towns around Australia vying to lay claim to Qantas’ regional pilot academy.

Tamworth has a chance to take an early lead when it hosts QantasLink boss John Gissing on Tuesday which would surely be a chance for the city to spruik its suitability.

Local pilot Ben Wyndham has been to each of the airports on the shortlist and he said there was only one viable option, in his mind.

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“Qantas is playing a game and stirring it for all it’s worth,” he said.

“They released a criteria about four or six weeks ago, Tamworth was the only airport that ticks all the boxes.”

“The only other airport that has the infrastructure would be Wagga, Alice Springs is interesting, but I think it’s too remote, Launceston, I don’t think would meet the weather criteria.”

He said it would be “push-button start” for the academy if Tamworth were declared the winner.

“I’m looking forward to getting some certainty so the rest of the aviation community in Tamworth can get on with business and continue working productively with TRC to build aviation,” he said.

Mr Gissing has a personal connection to Tamworth and it’s a relationship which could prove providential in the pursuit for the pilot academy.

Mr Gissing was taught to fly in Tamworth under the tutelage of Judy McKenzie.

New England MP Barnaby Joyce “knew Tamworth would be in the box seat” following the $2 million upgrade to the instrument landing system.

“I have no doubt we have the means and capacity to see this project through to the finish and bring true decentralisation to Tamworth,” he said. 

“I wanted to make sure that as the BAE contract with the Australian Air Force came to a close at Tamworth that our city moved to a better position and this is a big step towards that.”

Qantas has also hinted a second academy could be on the cards.

Qantas Group Pilot Academy Executive Manager, Wes Nobelius said cities could still be in contention to host a second academy if the demand for pilots was strong enough – including training foreign students on behalf of airlines overseas.

“We think there could be enough demand from the broader industry for us to train up to 500 pilots a year, and to do that we’re likely to need two separate academies because of the practical realities of trying to do that much training in a single location,” he said.

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