VIRGIN Australia has put all of its eggs in one basket to claim Tamworth as its home for a “world class pilot training centre”.
Mayor Col Murray said Virgin approached Tamworth about linking up for the historic partnership about five months ago.
He said “they were only having discussions with Tamworth and no one else” which might have played a part in council knocking back two other strong pilot training bids, including one from Qantas.
Qantas launched a nationwide search for a regional location for a pilot training academy earlier this year and Tamworth won a spot on its shortlist of nine cities.
Toowoomba claimed first points in September, but Qantas said it would need a second site to cater for the 500 pilots it wished to train every year.
Cr Murray said talks with Virgin weren’t escalated after Tamworth missed out on being named first in the Qantas race.
“There was just a constant exchange, it was a very professional and quite a visionary approach from Virgin as to what might be achieved out here,” he said.
“Virgin had done some studies and selected Tamworth as a prime location.”
Cr Murray said the specifics of the deal were still “bound by confidentiality agreements”, but suggested it would be a big endeavour.
“[It’s] more jobs, more pilots, more benefit to the regional economy, and it’ll put Tamworth on the map in a world sense in terms of pilot training,” he said.
He does not believe the deal would negatively impact on the city’s relationship with Qantas.
“All the way through these negotiations, Qantas and TRC have deliberately set aside the other operations of the airport,” the mayor said.
“Qantas have confirmed all the way through they are committed to Tamworth.
“Every conversation has been quite solid about their commitment to ongoing future development of their flights and pilot training capacity.”
Qantas confirmed Tamworth was now out of contention for its regional pilot training academy, but executive manager Wes Nobelius welcomed the Virgin announcement.
“We’ve already announced our first pilot academy location at Toowoomba and are progressing a second location from a list of seven remaining shortlisted cities,” Mr Nobelius said.
“It’s great to see more airlines investing in training new pilots, especially given the global demand projections. It’s also great news for Tamworth and regional Australia more broadly.”
“We really appreciate the time and effort invested by Tamworth Regional Council in being part of our selection process.
“Qantas will continue to have a strong presence in the Tamworth market with up to 29 weekly return services and more than 100 employees on the ground.”
Tamworth MP Kevin Anderson said the NSW government would support council to help deliver the Virgin academy with the same “package” promised if the Qantas facility was secured.
“It’s the same offer, the same package that we spoke to council about previously,” he said.
The government previously said it would chip in $5 million in infrastructure upgrades, should Qantas choose Tamworth or another NSW city.
It is understood the third bid was from CAE Oxford.
New England MP Barnaby Joyce welcomed the news and said he had been fighting to see a project like this take off.
“This is a huge win, to think we’re going to have hundreds of jobs here in Tamworth, jobs that are going to help grow our city,” Mr Joyce said in a statement.
“I’ve always said what replaces BAE will be bigger and it is.
“I’ve been fighting to see a project like this take off in the New England and it will be great to see the training centre finally realised.”