Qantas is looking for a regional location for its pilot training academy. Photo: ANDREW PERRYMAN

BENDIGO has put its hand up to host what could become the biggest pilot training school in the southern
hemisphere.
The City of Greater Bendigo has confirmed it will submit a bid for a Qantas pilot training academy to eventually train 500 pilots a year, adding it is working with the state government to position the city favourably.
But even if, after $15 million of investment Bendigo airport is not ready for the Qantas proposal, a former deputy chief of the Royal Australian Air Force says council should attract a commercial pilot school to locate at the facility.
After completing an runway extension and upgrading airfield infrastructure, the council has focussed its attention on trying to draw a commercial airline to offer flights to Adelaide, Sydney and other regional centres.
Air Vice Marshal John Blackburn AO said a more feasible option was to exploit the dire global shortage of commercial pilots.
Mr Blackburn, who often flies into Bendigo and was involved in selecting Wagga Wagga for additional RAAF training, said Bendigo offered an ideal location for training, favoured by climate and proximity to the city and tertiary education.
“I think a small regional airline hub might be feasible down the line but it is not going to draw you huge business,” he told the Bendigo Weekly.
“There is going to be growth in pilot training and Australia is ideally suited for it. Qantas is going to engage a civil school and find a location, is the Bendigo council looking at that as part of the bigger development plan because it is not just Qantas who is going to do this.
“Why wouldn’t you look at Bendigo? You have the got the basics there, the town is outstanding if you want to attract not only the students but the staff.
“You have got the university there and I know in Wagga Wagga local universities provide some of the academic training for the air force cadets.”
Qantas called for registrations for the first intake at its proposed academy which it wants up and running next year.
“We’re looking to base the academy at a regional centre with an airfield, uncongested airspace and the infrastructure to support and accommodate up to 100 students in the first year of operation,” a spokesperson said.3From Page 1
“We hope to be able to train up to 500 students each year once the academy is fully established, including training pilots for other airlines, creating the largest flight training school in the southern hemisphere.”
Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce had written to federal and state premiers “to begin a conversation about the possibility of where the academy will be located”.
Mr Joyce has quoted an estimated shortfall of 640,000 pilots in the next 20 years, 40 per cent in the Asia Pacific.
Qantas is prepared to spend $20 million in an initial investment but is asking state ministers to pitch for the investment.
“Representatives from all levels of government have already expressed their interest for their region to be home to the academy,” the spokesperson said, declining to confirm if Bendigo was among them.
Despite the state contributing $5m to the airport, transport minister Jacinta Allan did not confirm if the government was lobbying to support Bendigo and other Victorian regional airports.
But council strategy and growth director Bernie O’Sullivan said the council would submit an expression of interest.
“The City of Greater Bendigo would like to be considered as a host site for the Qantas regional pilot training academy,” Mr O’Sullivan said.
“We believe this would be a great opportunity to capitalise on the investment made by local, state and federal governments in developing the new runway, not to mention the jobs and new people it would attract to the
region.
“The city is working with the state government to position Bendigo as a possible Victorian host site for the pilot training
academy.
“But there is still much to understand about the scope of Qantas’ plans and what will be required, to see if the city will be able to accommodate this.”
Building student accommodation in the city centre is already the subject of a feasibility study.
Ballarat hosts training for international airline pilots but its airspace could be deemed too congested, Mr Blackburn said.
Bendigo also had the advantage of being further away from coastal weather issues.

– Sharon Kemp