• Sharp Airlines is one of several companies that have signed a letter to the government calling for financial support for GA companies. (Steve Hitchen)
    Sharp Airlines is one of several companies that have signed a letter to the government calling for financial support for GA companies. (Steve Hitchen)

A united group of aviation companies has written to the Federal Government calling for financial support for general aviation companies that provide essential services to the airlines.

Signed by 13 airlines, 34 operators and five supporting organisations, the open letter was delivered to ministers and backbenchers today.

The letter points out that most GA companies like flight training organisations (FTO), maintenance repair and overhaul (MRO) shops and simulator centres deliver essential services to the airlines that have received government assistance, but nothing has been forthcoming for support organisations that are struggling to survive the COVID-19 era.

"Like the airlines and charter operators themselves these essential service providers suffered an immediate and crippling loss of revenue when the COVID pandemic first struck and air transport virtually came to a standstill," the letter says. "Even now most air transport services are only operating at a fraction of their pre COVID level.

"While some service providers have recovered many are still struggling. The situation is particularly critical in Victoria where the extended stage 4 lockdown in Melbourne and the closure of state borders has meant that many service providers are faced with little or no revenue.

"Some of these providers are small family owned businesses and do not have the resources to survive a prolonged period with no income. Given the lengthy roadmap to recovery put in place by the Victorian Government this situation shows little sign of easing before Christmas and as a result many of these businesses will be forced to close.

"Once gone these businesses will mostly not be replaced and even if they are it will take many years. CASA compliance and the infrastructure surrounding aviation businesses is very complicated and expensive. The barriers of entry into aviation are high and the margins are low. The risks are inherently high."

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the Federal Goverment via Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regions Michael McCormack has announced aviation industry aid packages worth $1.3 billion and has extended the Domestic Aviation Network Subsidy (DANS) and Regional Aviation Network Subsidy (RANS) into next year in a move it says is worth $150 million to the industry.

However, general aviation companies believe that very little of that is filtering down to the bottom layers of the industry.

"From the outset the Commonwealth Government recognised the importance of aviation to Australia and quite rightly provided assistance packages to help domestic and regional airlines survive. These have now been extended, but only as direct subsidies for domestic and regional airlines.

"Vital support services to these airlines have not received similar assistance. Yet like the airlines, these businesses have fixed costs such aircraft leases, mortgages, hangar and building rent, insurance and other significant overheads.

"We therefore call upon the government to provide an assistance package to these essential third party service providers
along the same lines as the Regional Airlines Funding Assistance program. We rely upon these services.

"They are essential for the future of general aviation, airlines and other air transport operators. They and the skilled workforce they support are needed to keep vital air services operating, notably to the smaller rural and remote communities in outback Australia.

"The situation is becoming critical for many service providers and we call upon the government to give this its most urgent

Companies that put their names to the letter include:

  • Virgin Airlines
  • Regional Express (REX)
  • Sharp Airlines
  • Ansett Aviation Training
  • Airspeed Aviation
  • Avia Aviation
  • Bush Pilots Australia
  • Flight Standards
  • General Aviation Maintenance (GAM)
  • Moorabbin Flying Services
  • Pel-Air
  • Royal Flying Doctor Service – QLD Division
  • RMIT Flight Training
  • Tristar Aviation
  • Australian Business Aviation Association
  • Aviation Aerospace Australia
  • Regional Aviation Association of Australia (RAAA)
  • Recreational Aviation Australia (RAAus).

Flying schools provide essential services to smaller operators and the industry in general such as training and checking, Instrument Proficiency Checks, commercial pilot training, Multi Crew Coordination Courses and Flight Instructor training.

Melbourne is also the home of Australia’s largest independent simulator centre, Ansett Aviation Training, which provides aircraft type ratings and professional pilot recurrency training and checking for regional airlines, aeromedical services  and two major domestic airlines.

Comment has been sought from the minister's office.

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