The only question is…where? Councils across the land have pledged their allegiance in a bid to host the swanky new training centre. But Qantas are looking for an extra special home. Who will get to play host?
Qantas is meeting the growing demand for new commercial pilots head-on, with plans to establish a world class training academy with the capacity to produce up to 500 new pilots per year. The school will open its doors next year, in a location to be announced in the coming months, and will be known as the Qantas Group Pilot Academy.
After applications from dozens of councils the length and breadth of Australia, Qantas has come up with a short list of nine candidates – Alice Springs, Bendigo, Busselton, Dubbo, Launceston, Mackay, Tamworth, Toowoomba and Wagga Wagga. Each has proven to have excellent facilities, a clear vision for the future, and strong community support.
“Narrowing down the possible locations from more than 60 to just nine wasn’t easy,” Qantas Group Pilot Academy executive manager Wes Nobelius said. “It will be harder still to whittle this down to just one.”
Whilst the academy will initially train pilots exclusively for the Qantas Group, including Jetstar and Qantas Link, the plan is to expand in the near future, in order to prepare pilots for other airlines across the globe. The initial intake of 100 pilots is only seen as a jumping off point, with an increase in that number in the coming years.
“Over time, we see huge potential for the academy to train for the industry more broadly,” Qantas Group chief executive Alan Joyce said. “We have some of the most talented pilots in the world flying for us, so imagine the demand to have Qantas pilots train others. Ultimately, we expect the Qantas Group Pilot Academy to be one of the biggest in the southern hemisphere, capable of producing 500 pilots a year.”
Qantas will initially invest $20 million in the program, which will be based out of an existing facility in one of the nominated regional cities. The successful city will be in for an economic boom, but it’s also a brilliant chance to provide young pilots with an unbelievable opportunity.
“Training on this scale represents a commercial opportunity for Qantas but it’s also about contributing to a talent pipeline that we rely on for more senior pilots down the track,” Nobelius added. “These graduates might fly for other airlines, join the defence force or be part of services like the Royal Flying Doctors.
“The applications from cities that we’ve seen through this process show regional cities have the capacity to help make Australia a regional hub for pilot training, and the potential benefit that could bring for local economies is huge. With reports showing that more than 600,000 new commercial pilots will be needed over the next 20 years, with 40 per cent in the Asia Pacific region alone, there’s never been a better time to start such an ambitious project.
“That level of demand makes the academy important not just for Qantas but for Australian aviation more broadly so that all parts of the industry have access to qualified pilots in a country that relies so heavily on air transport,” Joyce said. “Over time, we see potential for the academy to become a competitive advantage for Australia in the region. It could train pilots for other airlines and grow into the largest academy of its kind in the southern hemisphere.”
Pilots accepted into the program are expected to be high school and university graduates with a proven track record of academic excellence, who will then go on to 18 months of classroom, flight and simulator training. After their general knowledge base has been built, they will focus on the specific aircraft that they will be flying when they start their career.
After graduating, students will be ready to take on the world, safe in the knowledge that they’ve got the best possible training behind them.
AUSTRALIA’S GOT TALENT
Since the academy was announced in February, a huge number of councils have prepared bids to host the new facility. Days after the announcement, Mackay Airport general manager Rob Porter told the Daily Mercury that the airport’s owner, North Queensland Airports, had given the green light to try to land the project.
“Mackay boasts a first class university in CQU, there’s a good range of accommodation and hospitality providers and the airport offers a blend of up to date facilities and uncongested airspace,” Porter told the newspaper. “As well as all that Mackay is, as we all know, a great place to live. We are buying into the process, the bidding process. We will map out a plan and put together our pitch to go in front of Qantas.”
Not to be outdone, Tamworth mayor Col Murray told the Northern Daily Leader that the city’s airport would be an ideal location for the proposed Qantas academy.
“We’ll probably be one of the front runners in the considerations,” Murray told the newspaper at the start of the bidding process, “We’ve got some great attributes going for us – parallel runways, top-of-the-line landing instrument systems, abundant airspace and development approval to extend the accommodation at the existing training facility. It would be sensational for us to get this and we’ve already begun lobbying for it.”
Not surprisingly, both bids were successful in making the short list, and each has a very strong chance of being selected. Nobelius was quick to inform the media that there had been some very positive discussions with governments and state leaders within days of announcing the academy.
“We’re really pleased with the response we’ve had from local communities,” Nobelius said. “More than 40 regional cities have indicated they’ll be making a bid to be home to the Academy. We’ve even had one council posting a video on social media featuring its residents and all the city has to offer.
“The process will be very competitive and although there can only be one academy, we’re encouraging every region to put their best case forward.”
The candidates will be assessed on five main criteria, with the successful bid sure to prove that they have everything needed to host a world-class facility. The criteria have been outlined as follows:
Airport infrastructure – The successful candidate will need to have an asphalt runway with a minimum length of 1,300m, taxiways, and full lighting for night and reduced-visibility operations. Hangars and covered facilities that can accommodate maintenance crews, and parking for up to 30 aircraft, with the ability to grow to more than 50 aircraft, are also required.
Environment – The location of the airfield is crucial, and it must boast weather conditions that allow for a minimum of 300 days per year suitable for flying, based on historical averages.
Airspace – Access to a mix of controlled and uncontrolled airspace is necessary, to allow for as many flying opportunities as possible. An airport with a control tower is preferred.
Teaching facilities – In order to provide the best opportunities for students, high-tech classrooms and spaces for group briefings, full IT capabilities, and facilities to accommodate flight training simulators are necessary.
Student accommodation – The comfort of our future captains goes a long way to ensuring they become the best pilots possible. Contemporary private rooms, communal lounge areas and cafeterias, as well as access to medical facilities and public transport are to be an integral part of any bid.
THE FLYING KANGAROO
It should come as no surprise that the Qantas Group Pilot Academy has already received a huge amount of interest from budding pilots across the land, but the scope of those numbers might surprise you. More than 12,500 people have already registered their interest in the program, and one particularly keen young pilot even handed his application to Joyce aboard the inaugural QF9 flight from Perth to London Heathrow.
To make things even better, around 15 percent of those applications have been from women – a fact that pleases the Qantas staff.
“The proportion of women who have registered their interest is also significant for a profession that currently has a global average of three per cent female representation, and puts us on track to reach our goal under the Nancy Bird Walton initiative to reach at least 40 per cent women in our pilot intakes in ten years’ time,” Nobelius said. “We look forward to welcoming the first students to our academy next year, to be trained by some of the world’s best pilots, to become some of the world’s best pilots.”
The academy is set to provide wide-ranging benefits to the community that ultimately welcomes it, with Qantas expected to employ 40 people in training and support roles. This is just the latest part of Qantas’ long-term plan to help out regional Australia.
“The Qantas Group operations in regional Australia directly contributes $884 million in value added and indirectly contributes an additional $706 million in value added,” a spokesman said. “The Qantas Group directly provides 1,034 jobs in regional Australia and indirectly supports an additional 4,599 jobs in upstream industries such as catering and airport support staff.” These numbers will only grow with the formation of the new academy.
Qantas has become a true icon of our country, adding greatly to our image and to our economy, and the new training academy is just the latest in a long line of ground-breaking initiatives.
“Qantas was founded in outback Queensland almost one hundred years ago, and since then we’ve been partnering with small and big businesses right across regional Australia,” QantasLink chief executive John Gissing recently said. “We encourage travellers in our own backyard and around the world to spend more time exploring our extensive regional network and drive the tourism that is so vital to the local economies of towns and regional areas.”
The formation of the Qantas Group Training Academy is certainly an exciting prospect for the local aviation industry, and there’s a chance that a second facility might be built to cope with the growing number of students.
“We think there could be enough demand from the broader industry for us to train up to 500 pilots a year, and to do that we’re likely to need two separate academies because of the practical realities of trying to do that much training in a single location,” Nobelius revealed.
The academy is a brilliant initiative, and this is just the start of something really special.
THE SHORT LIST
Alice Springs, Northern Territory
Alice Springs Airport general manager Dave Batic is planning to invest more than $50 million in capital works should the NT get the nod. Batic is especially excited by the prospect of hundreds of jobs being created.
“This is potentially a game-changer for Alice Springs long-term because it would potentially tap in to becoming an international pilot training facility,” Batic said. “What we’re thrilled about is that if they are committed to Central Australia, a lot of families involved in the academy would relocate to Alice Springs, which is great boost for the community.
Bendigo has undergone major redevelopment in recent years, with a runway extension and airfield infrastructure upgrades, and now the council is focused on bringing the academy to town.
“Why wouldn’t you look at Bendigo?” Air Vice Marshal John Blackburn AO asked The Bendigo Weekly. “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 to provide some of the academic training for the air force cadets.”
Busselton, Western Australia
The West’s only remaining candidate is Margaret River Airport – and it has everything required to be the perfect home for the new academy.
“The city was pleased to receive the news, given more than 60 regional cities put forward proposals,” Mayor Grant Henley said. “While we do not know the details at this stage, the city will explore the opportunity, as this could represent significant economic benefits for the entire South West region.”
Henley will meet with the Qantas Group Pilot Academy management team over the coming weeks to help formulate a plan. We’ve got no doubt that it will be impressive.
Dubbo, New South Wales
Dubbo mayor Ben Shields had an unusual way of promoting his city to Qantas, creating a video that he posted on social media to drum up support.
“Just imagine this, Alan Joyce,” Shields said in the video, which was filmed at Dubbo City Regional Airport. “A major regional airport on the rise. Technical connectivity rivalling any metro centre. Room to live, work and grow. Eight. Minute. Commute. No wonder we are a city of over 40,000 smiles.
“The future faces of QANTAS are waiting for the doors to open here in Dubbo. Dubbo is the right choice, Alan Joyce.”
The Apple Isle is in with a good shot at luring Qantas south, with Launceston mayor Albert van Zetten arguing that Launceston offers students an enviable lifestyle and access to first-rate airport infrastructure.
“I believe Launceston is a standout city on the shortlist, and that our offering is unique,” van Zetten said. “Launceston Airport is a very high standard regional airport. The City of Launceston has been a shareholder in that venture since 1998 and the airport’s infrastructure would be a solid asset for a Qantas academy.
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk believes Queensland has distinct advantages over the other states. “Mackay has a strong regional community, offers great lifestyle opportunities, excellent supply capabilities and established infrastructure networks, with easy connectivity both nationally and internationally,” she said.
Tamworth, New South Wales
Mayor Col Murray wants everyone to know that his town is the best candidate: “Tamworth does have a lot of attributes as far as pilot training,” Murray said. “Things like the number of clear flying days.”
The city is perfectly situated for an academy of this type, and we expect to see Tamworth shape up as one of the favourites to get the gig.
Toowoomba’s Wellcamp Airport developer and co-owner John Wagner could barely contain his excitement upon learning that his city had made the short list.
“We have the newest, most modern airport in the country,” he beamed. “We don’t have a great deal of air-traffic, it’s uncongested, and we’ve got four or five satellite airfields in close proximity, which means they can go out and train many aircraft at once.”
He also cited Toowoomba’s weather, nearby military air space, strong aviation community and its renowned livability as reasons Qantas should consider Wellcamp Airport.
Wagga Wagga, New South Wales
Wagga Wagga mayor Greg Conkey knows there’s a lot of work to be done if his council is successful in its bid, but he’s more than willing to get his hands dirty.
“If we pick up this academy, it involves 500 training pilots per year, so we’ll certainly bend over backwards to assist in any way that we can,” Conkey said. “We’re spending $6 million to upgrade the taxiways out at the airport, which will go a long way to support this academy if we’re successful.”