Pilot plan set for take-off

Francesca MannGeraldton Guardian

Geraldton’s dreams of hosting Qantas Group’s future Pilot Academy may be over, but the City of Greater Geraldton already has a back-up plan.

Last month, Qantas announced the nine regional cities shortlisted as potential locations for the training hub, with Busselton the only WA city to make the cut.

More than 60 cities around Australia applied for the academy, which is expected to open next year to help cope with increased global demand for pilots.

Mayor Shane Van Styn had previously told The Geraldton Guardian the City’s bid was strong thanks to uncontrolled air space and a climate that would “easily exceed Qantas’ requirements of 300 clear flying days a year”.

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A Qantas spokesperson said the shortlisted locations were “strongly supported” by the State and Territory governments.

Mr Van Styn said the City was disappointed with the outcome but would look to take their proposed designs elsewhere.

“It’s disappointing that we weren’t even shortlisted but that won’t stop us from developing the airport to grow Geraldton into the future,” he said.

“Qantas is not the first company we’ve spoken to about a pilot academy in Geraldton.

“There may be an opportunity for another airline to take up (the academy).”

To be eligible for the academy, applicants need a minimum runway length of 1300m, lighting for night and reduced visibility operations and fuel tanker refuelling.

They also need hangars and covered facilities to accommodate maintenance and parking for up to 30 aircraft.

The nine contenders for the Qantas Pilot Academy are Bendigo (Victoria), Busselton (WA), Dubbo, Tamworth and Wagga Wagga (NSW), Mackay and Towoomba (QLD), Launceston (Tasmania), and Alice Springs (NT).

The final decision is expected to be made in the third quarter of this year.

During the City’s Budget breakfast event last month, corporate and commercial services director Bob Davis said their academy plans were “ready to go”. “We always had a plan B,” he said.

“We’ve got a fully developed academy ready to go and will look at an international expression of interest to other airlines.

“We’re an ideal location.”

But Mr Van Styn noted the City needed to upgrade Geraldton Airport before larger planes could use the runway.

In the 2018-19 budget, $24 million has been allocated for works to the airport, which will include upgrading the taxiways and aprons and extending the runway to 2400m.

The project will be co-funded, with $7.5 million from the City, $6.5 million from the State Government and $10 million from the Federal Government’s Building Better Regions Infrastructure Fund.

Mr Van Styn said the finished airport project would benefit the wider community.

“The expansion will enable the development of direct interstate and international services for tourism and airfreight,” he said.

“It should give the private sector greater confidence to invest in Geraldton. Having an airport within less than one hour flight time of Perth that is able to accommodate landings by larger jets is important for tourism as it enables airlines to carry smaller fuel loads and improves flight economics.”

The Geraldton Airport project is expected to create 47 jobs during delivery and another 30 ongoing jobs.

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