Flight school consultation will be developed

Swan Hill Rural City Council will develop a consultation process to consider the views of people living near and using the Swan Hill Aerodrome, as it negotiates the terms of a potential lease to a flying school.

At its April meeting, Council agreed to authorise the Chief Executive Officer to enter into a heads of agreement with Australian Aviation Alliance (AAA) to potentially operate a flying school from the Swan Hill aerodrome.

Mr McLinden said it was early days for the proposal.

“Council has made no firm commitment to establish a lease and user agreement with the Australian Aviation Alliance, but through this heads of agreement, Council has signaled its intention to do so if suitable terms and conditions can be negotiated,” Mr McLinden said.

“We understand that a flying school will have implications for those who live close to the aerodrome and we will develop a consultation process to take those people’s views into account,” he said.

“Our negotiations with AAA will include matters of community amenity, things like flight paths between the aerodrome and designated training grounds, location of those training grounds, hours of operation and the like.

“These matters are regulated by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority and Air Services Australia, and so any negotiations will have to include discussions with those authorities as well.

“As with any commercial negotiation, the details will remain confidential while discussions are taking place, but we will certainly consider the views of those who live nearby.”

AAA trains pilots bound for the Chinese aviation industry and has operated from the Mildura airport for more than a year. The company has now grown to a point where it is experiencing congestion and looking for alternative locations.

Mr McLinden said the company was attracted to Swan Hill because of its flat terrain, ideal flying conditions and clear weather.

“The training standards in Australia are world-renowned and like so much of our education, is prized by other countries. It is for this reason that Australian Aviation Alliance is looking to Australia as a training destination for its new recruits,” he said.

He said Council saw the company’s interest in Swan Hill as a chance to increase use of the currently under-utilised aerodrome and to inject outside money into the Swan Hill region economy.

“We’ll see an increase in the Swan Hill population of about 250 people – 200 students and 50 instructors and support personnel. They all need to be housed, clothed and fed, and their planes serviced and fueled – all things that stimulate our economy,” Mr McLinden said.

“It’s also important to consider that this aerodrome has seen millions of dollars of public money poured into it over many decades. Even with that investment, the business community has been asking for more facilities to make the aerodrome more user-friendly for them to use to transport goods and personnel.

“If we’re able to attract this flight school, it would allow us to develop those facilities and get some really good use of this public infrastructure and public investment.”

Council will now design a community and stakeholder engagement process. This process will seek to gather the views of all who are interested in this proposal and it will be conducted in a way that responds to the current COVID-19 restrictions.

Frequently asked questions

1. What is the background behind the proposal to bring a flying school to Swan Hill?

Australian Aviation Alliance (AAA) approached Swan Hill Rural City Council seeking approval and assistance to establish a flying school at Swan Hill.

AAA currently operates out of the Mildura airport where is has been located for over 12 months. AAA’s operations in Mildura have grown to a point where they are experiencing congestion and they are looking for alternative locations to expand.

The company is attracted to Swan Hill because of its flat terrain, ideal flying conditions and clear weather. This coupled with very low current use of the aerodrome provides a great opportunity for AAA to increase its training capacity and for the Swan Hill Aerodrome to expand its use.

The company trains pilots bound for the Chinese aviation industry and has commercial relationships with a number of Chinese-operated airlines who have an increasing demand for new pilots.

The training standards in Australia are world-renowned and like so much of our education is prized by other countries. It is for this reason that AAA has looked to Australia as a training destination for its new recruits.

2. Are you selling the aerodrome?

No, we are not selling the aerodrome. We are considering leasing some of the infrastructure at the aerodrome to AAA. The public facilities at the aerodrome will remain open to the public as they are now.

3. What has Council decided?

In April, Council authorised the Chief Executive Officer to enter into a heads of agreement with AAA, with the view to negotiating suitable conditions under which AAA could operate out of the Swan Hill Aerodrome. At this time, Council has made no firm commitment to establish a lease and user agreement with AAA but has signaled its intention to do so if suitable terms and conditions can be negotiated.

4. What will be the process?

Council made the heads of agreement document public through the April Council Meeting agenda. This heads of agreement document sets out the general intentions of both parties.

From this point forward, Council will enter into commercial negotiations with AAA and will also continue to consult with the community in relation to the operation of a flying school at the Swan Hill Aerodrome.

5. Will the community get to have a say?

We understand a flying school will have implications for those who live close to the Swan Hill Aerodrome. There will be increased traffic, increased noise and the aerodrome will be a very different place to what it is now.

We will develop a consultation process to take into account those people’s views, in particular with regard to the conditions that Council is negotiating with AAA, like flight paths between the aerodrome and designated training grounds, location of those training grounds and hours of operation.

As with any commercial negotiations of this nature, the details of the negotiations will remain confidential while those discussions are taking place.

6. What will you do about noise, flight paths and hours of operation?

Council will negotiate with AAA on matters in relation to community amenity and these will include flight paths between the airport and designated training grounds, the locations of those training grounds and hours of operation.

The Civil Aviation Safety Authority and Air Services Australia operate in a cooperative manner to regulate these matters.

7. What about existing aerodrome use?

Council has conducted preliminary discussions with those currently using the aerodrome or those who have a stake in the aerodrome.

A formal briefing was conducted earlier this year. All users of the aerodrome, including any flight schools established there, will be required to operate cooperatively, making allowance for each other’s needs in use of the aerodrome.

It is important to note that the aerodrome has been busy in the past. There have been flight schools active there in the past, but nothing on the scale to what we’re considering now.

8. Why is Council pursuing this idea?

The Swan Hill Aerodrome is home to millions of dollars of community infrastructure, which has been established and paid for by previous generations. The aerodrome has been in existence since the 1940s. Usage peaked around the 1980s, when a number of pilot training schools operated out of the aerodrome as well as regular public transport services.

In recent years, use of the aerodrome has decreased, but it still provides a vital service to this community, including regular medical transfers, private charter services and other essential supply services to the Swan Hill community.

There is certainly capacity at the aerodrome for vastly increased traffic and the establishment of a pilot training facility will bring significant economic benefit to the Swan Hill community.

This proposal could grow the Swan Hill population by 250 people and with that comes significant economic benefits. This proposal will bring overseas money into the Swan Hill community and that money will continue to circulate around our economy.

The Australian education sector has benefited greatly from billions of dollars flowing in from overseas countries in training overseas students at a tertiary level for many years. Approximately 95 per cent of that benefit flows to the capital cities where universities are located.

This venture is one opportunity for a small proportion of those billions of dollars to come to the Swan Hill community so that our community can benefit from increased economic activity.

9. What specific benefits will this proposal bring to the Swan Hill community?

If this proposal proceeds, the Swan Hill region community can expect an additional 250 residents housed within the town. It will increase the economic activity of the town and will provide for a number of service industries to support the flying school. The students, instructors and administrative support personnel will require housing, clothing, food and other support.

10. What about the housing shortage in Swan Hill?

There is no doubt that there is limited supply of housing in the Swan Hill region. The introduction of a further 250 personnel will in time stimulate additional growth in the accommodation sector.

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