FLYING HIGH: Leader of the Nationals and Shadow Minister for Regional Victoria and Decentralisation, Peter Walsh, and Member for Mildura Peter Crisp at this week’s announcement.

By JOHN DOOLEY

A PILOT training academy at Mildura Airport looks more likely after the Liberal-National Coalition this week promised $4million to install an Instrument Landing System (ILS) should they win the November 24 election.

The ILS will enhance safety, and allow aircraft to operate in low-visibility conditions.

Member for Mildura Peter Crisp was joined by leader of the Nationals Peter Walsh and Shadow Minister for Aviation, Gordon Rich-Phillips, in Mildura on Tuesday for three major funding announcements.

Mr Rich-Phillips said a Coalition Government will reinstitute the Regional Aviation Infrastructure Fund – a commitment of $24million over four years – to upgrade regional airports across Victoria.

“We recognise that regional airports play an important role in supporting local communities, providing connectivity for local communities be it business, tourism, emergency services access including fire protection and detection activities, they are important hubs,” he said.

Mr Rich-Phillips linked the Airport pledge to his Party’s decentralisation policy.

“The Coalition is committed to working to decentralise Victoria’s population, and part of doing that is to ensure that infrastructure in regional communities is up to standard,” he said. “Through the period of the last Coalition Government from 2010-14, we invested $20million into regional airports across the State, and we upgraded 22 airports in a whole range of ways, including sealing runways and taxiways, putting in fuel facilities, instrument approach facilities like we are announcing here today, and putting in lighting so they can be used 24 hours a day.

“The ILS here in Mildura will ensure that even in very low weather, aircraft will be able to land here, ensuring that Mildura is a more reliable destination for flights, both commercial and private, and it will make Mildura a more attractive destination for flying school operators.”

Pearson Aviation’s CEO, Guy Pearson, whose company is in negotiations to bring a pilot academy to Mildura, said that an ILS may well have made for a safer outcome for the incident which involved two commercial aircraft caught in fog over Mildura five years ago.

“Based on my understanding of events that led to that incident, if a category 1 ILS had been here, it is my view that the near disaster that occurred could well have been averted,” he said.

Mr Pearson was referring to a Virgin and Qantas 737 trying to land in heavy fog at Mildura in June 2013, with the Virgin flight reportedly only having 10 minutes of fuel left before it landed.

“The enhancements to safety that will flow from the initiative the Coalition is proposing, in particular with an ILS at Mildura Airport, will definitely enhance our prospects of attracting a significant operation in terms of international students,” Mr Pearson said.

“The ILS is an essential training tool, as well as an operational tool for day-to-day operations for airlines, general aviation and private aviation into Mildura, and we see the installation of the ILS as being only positive.”

The opening of a pilot training academy in Mildura has the potential to inject $14million into the local economy, with more than 100 students expected to be enrolled at the school, not to mention the flow-on employment opportunities that will be created.

Mr Crisp said Labor needed to match the Coalition’s pledge, which he believes is a vital piece of infrastructure for the Mildura Airport.

“I’m calling on Labor to support Mildura’s future and to support the installation of the ILS,” he said. “This is an essential aid for an airport of this size, and I think the Labor Government should be supporting this initiative and Mildura’s future.

“Pursuing opportunities like the flying school is something that is vital for Mildura’s diversification and its economy.” 

Mr Crisp said that while Mildura already enjoyed a healthy economy, he wanted to see it strengthened further through diversity.

“We have a strong economy and we want that economy to be stronger,” he said. “We have our abattoir reactivating, and we have new wineries being built. 

“All will provide many important jobs, but we also want to diversify out of the agricultural area and this project is an opportunity that we want to pursue. The fact is we are in competition with many other places, and so if we want this flying school in Mildura and in Victoria, then all levels of government have to step up and support this pilot academy in Mildura.”

The other major funding announcement was made by Mr Walsh, who said an elected Coalition Government would establish a $1billion Decentralisation Fund, which will enable targeted investment to deliver better infrastructure and create the jobs required to support growing communities in Regional Victoria.

“This massive investment, over two terms, will go directly into rural and regional communities, in line with the Liberal-Nationals’ vision to decentralise our State,” he said. 

“It will include grants for smaller projects through a returned ‘Putting Locals First Fund,’ which will help put communities in control of their future and fund local projects that will support economic and social development.”