BENDIGO airport is competing with a $5 million carrot the New South Wales government is waving in front of Qantas to secure the airline’s $20m regional pilot academy in that state.
Of the nine regional areas shortlisted to host the 500-pilot academy, three are in NSW including front runner Tamworth.
Dubbo and Wagga Wagga are also included on the Qantas shortlist but Tamworth Regional Council general manager Paul Bennett has been quoted in several regional newspapers including the Armidale Express that “the state government has come out and said they’ll put $5m behind any one of the NSW cities if Qantas selected them”.
Tamworth’s bid includes a readily established aviation training facility that was used as the Australian Defence Force’s basic flying training school until it was relocated to RAAF Base East Sale.
Part of the facility has since been leased for commercial pilot training.
Tamworth’s bid also includes development approvals to extend accommodation at the airport’s training facility.
Qantas listed student acommodation as a requirement to host the academy, but most other shortlisted regional centres including Bendigo find themselves without immediate available living arrangements.
The airline intends to launch the academy at the start of 2019 with 100 students.
Despite a recent $15m upgrade, Bendigo airport also lacks an instrument landing system the likes of which are installed at Tamworth, Launceston and Alice Springs, all of which are also shortlisted.
What Bendigo has in its favour is uncongested air space, great flying weather and space to build training facilities onsite.
Leading the bid, Regional Development Victoria has said it is also working on incentives to encourage Qantas to choose Bendigo which is the only shortlisted site in Victoria.
“This is an excellent outcome for Bendigo to be amongst the nine regional airports shortlisted from a field of more than 60 across Australia,” a Victorian government spokesperson said.
“We welcome the opportunity to continue working with Qantas to determine if Bendigo could become home to the Qantas Group Pilot Training Academy in 2019.”
Qantas will be visiting the City of Greater Bendigo in the coming weeks to further evaluate their proposal, but no dates have been set at this time.
The council is also seeking federal government funding to upgrade the airport terminal at Bendigo as it continues to try and tempt a commercial flight service.
Complicating the council’s advocacy is the Victorian government’s intention to keep options open on the rail link to Melbourne’s main airport, one of which could facilitate a link between Bendigo and Tullamarine.
Victorian premier Daniel Andrews said the option did not undermine Bendigo’s ability to attract a commercial carrier.
“I don’t see Bendigo airport and Tullamarine competing, I think you can run discrete services that meet needs,” Mr Andrews said.
– Sharon Kemp