Flight path changes from new Sydney airport threaten pilot schools

NSW training schools for pilots have warned they cannot afford the cost of shifting their operations to make way for Western Sydney International Airport in 2026, which could put further strain on the country’s already depleted supply of pilots.

Aeria Management Group – which operates Camden and Bankstown airports and provides the bulk of pilot training in NSW – has warned the federal Department of Transport that its draft environmental impact statement for the Western Sydney airport “substantially underestimates” the costs for the existing airports in the already congested Sydney Basin.

Basair Aviation College chief executive David Newton.
Basair Aviation College chief executive David Newton.Credit: Janie Barrett

The two airports cumulatively train 600 pilots across 10 schools. But many of the training facilities, which are based at the two airports, have told Aeria their operations will not be able to afford the increased fuel bills, staffing costs and aircraft maintenance caused by having to conduct their training further away.

Basair Aviation College is based at Bankstown Airport and is one of the biggest pilot training schools in NSW. It also has the third-biggest fleet in the country, behind airlines Qantas and Virgin Australia.

Basair chief executive David Newton said he was committed to staying open, but expects the cost of training to increase by about $100 per flight. As it stands, accredited commercial pilot training in Australia costs about $150,000 per pilot.

“The length of our flight times will increase which will mean students have to fly further to get to the training area, and we can’t absorb that cost. I am not anti the airport, I train commercial pilots, so am naturally very supportive [of Western Sydney International Airport] but we need to feel supported too,” Newton said.

Oceania will require about 10,000 new pilots within the next two decades, according to research by L.E.K Consulting for the Department of Transport last year. Already, there are not enough pilots graduating from the country’s pilot schools to meet demand. Since flying resumed after COVID-19, local airlines have complained that pilot poaching by global giants including Delta, American Airlines, United and Emirates has intensified.

Regional Express – which has drastically reduced its flights over the past six months due to a lack of pilots and supply chain hiccups – launched an apprenticeship program last year. Qantas has established its own pilot academy in 2020 to provide introductory training to prospective pilots.

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The federal government expects Bankstown and Camden airports will incur $15 million in annual costs as a result of having to move their operations to accommodate Western Sydney International Airport. But Urbis analysis, commissioned by Aeria, estimates the cost will be closer to $76 million each year, more than five times the government’s forecast.

An Aeria submission warned flight schools were at risk of closure, which would be damaging for aviation operations in the Sydney region. “The real economic impact on some flight training schools will be substantial loss of business, the costs of having to relocate to another airport or losses related to the closure of their business altogether,” the submission warned.

Oceania will require 10,000 more pilots within the next two decades, according to research.
Oceania will require 10,000 more pilots within the next two decades, according to research.Credit: Peter Rae

Aeria chief executive Daniel Jarosch said the government’s modelling was unrealistic and did not account for the closure of any pilot training schools or its expected 20 per cent reduction in enrolments.

“It paints a relatively rosy picture that there will be no impact on student enrolments. We feel that is a flawed assumption. With increased costs come increased tuition fees which results in less demand. It’s not what we need in the midst of a global pilots shortage,” Jarosch said.

Aeria has asked the government for compensation, investment incentives and bolstered air traffic control resourcing to support the existing airports ahead of Western Sydney International Airport’s opening. It’s also called for a whole-of-airspace review of the broader Sydney Basin.

A spokesperson for Transport Minister Catherine King declined to respond to questions about the implications for the state’s flight training schools, but said the government was “considering feedback” received in the 8000 submissions to Western Sydney International Airport’s environmental impact statement.

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Source: Thanks smh.com