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SH Aerodrome interview

SH Aerodrome interview

Interview with Swan Hill Rural City Council CEO John McLinden

Fraser Fyfe: So why create the flight school in the first place?

John McLinden: Council was approached some time ago by a flight school that was already established in Mildura and they were looking to expand and had identified that the Swan Hill Aerodrome may be suitable.

So, we've been holding preliminary discussions with this organisation, who have now established a company called Australian Aviation Alliance, looking at establishing a flight school in Swan Hill.

Now, council at this point is not fully committed to the notion, but we are certainly excited by the possibilities of bringing a flight school of this magnitude to town.

What it would mean is approximately 200 students at any one time being trained on Cessna aircraft to Australian safety rules, through CASA rules and ultimately obtain their commercial pilots licence, which takes I'm told between 12 and 14 months to obtain. It's pretty much full time training.

Of course, those students will be supported by flight instructors and other administrative personnel. So, we'll see an increase in the Swan Hill population of about 250 people. 200 students, 50 instructors and support personnel, as a minimum.

That's something that is certainly attractive to council, to try and grow our town and to grow the economic activity that would come from a flight training school in Swan Hill.

FF: Now, speaking of Mildura. There's been pushback from the local community over things like noise complaints. Are issues like that going to be addressed?

JM: Well, I guess addressed to the extent that they can be. The reality is that aeroplanes do make noise, so it would be naive and quite inaccurate for me to suggest that there won't be increases in noise. If this flight school comes to Swan Hill, there will be a significant increase in traffic to the Aerodrome.

But, I'd also ask the community to consider that this Aerodrome has seen millions of dollars of public money poured into it over many decades. Those who have come before us have put their hard earned resources into developing this public piece of infrastructure, a municipal aerodrome, which is currently available for anyone to use free of charge and always has been.

If we are able to attract this flight school, we'll get to see some really good use of this public infrastructure. Infrastructure that we've all paid for in the years gone by, and we'll then see some return to our economy from having this flight school here.

So yes, we certainly are aware there will be increased traffic, increased noise and the Aerodrome will be a much different place to what it is at present. But, I'd also point out the Aerodrome has been busy in the past. In years gone by, there were flight schools active there, but certainly nothing on the scale to what we're talking about now.

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FF: Will there be any sort of public consultation period?

JM: Yes, there will. Council has started that process by discussing the matter in an open council meeting and what council has decided is also important to put on the record.

Council has decided at this point in time to authorise the Chief Executive Officer to enter into a Heads of Agreement with the Australian Aviation Alliance.

So, a Heads of Agreement is really a letter of intent, spelling out the intention of both parties to negotiate in good faith. Council hasn't fully committed to any proposal at this point in time, but has clearly flagged it's intention to negotiate to establish a flight school in Swan Hill.

FF: The ABC reported back in March that the flight school in Mildura was funded with embezzled money from China. Being that you're dealing with the same company, is that something that's going to be looked into?

JM: We've already looked into that to the extent that we can. We can find no evidence that there is any substance to that ABC report. There is certainly some issues there in the background, but we don't believe that it's connected in any way to the operations of this flight school.

In fact, one of the things that's attractive to us about this flight school is it is designed purely to feed the aviation market in China. So the company Australian Aviation Alliance has business connections with a number of airlines in China and those airlines will be feeding cadets into the AAA to be trained.

This will bring overseas money into the Swan Hill economy and that money will stay in the economy and swirl around, rather than us currently swirling our own money as it were around the economy. So it certainly is real growth in the economy and we don't hide from the fact that a large proportion of it will be overseas money, in fact money coming from China.

FF: Is there a possibility that the flight school doesn't go ahead?

JM: Anything's possible in this world. Council has at this point authorised me to negotiate a Heads of Agreement and look towards negotiating lease and user arrangements.

We have signed nothing and until there's a signed lease in place and then the flight school starts to operate, no one can say with certainty that it will proceed.

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