• DPM and Minister for Infrastructure and Transport Michael McCormack speaks at the general aviation summit at Wagga Wagga in July 2018. (Steve Hitchen)
    DPM and Minister for Infrastructure and Transport Michael McCormack speaks at the general aviation summit at Wagga Wagga in July 2018. (Steve Hitchen)

– The Hon. Michael McCormack MP

Australian aviation, especially our safety record, is the envy of the world.

We are working together to ensure there is the workforce to meet our future needs and we should be proud of the record and reliability of Australian aviation.

And as the Transport Minister, I am taking action to help the sector meet its future needs, creating jobs and opportunities for Australians and securing the safety of the travelling public.

Getting the balance right on aviation safety and the viability of aircraft operations is not only important, but essential.

Since I became the Minister 13 months ago, I have met with and listened to the aviation sector around the country, including at a general aviation summit at Wagga Wagga.

In response to that feedback I introduced a Bill to Parliament in February to amend the Civil Aviation Act to take cost into account when making new regulations, whilst still prioritising safety for the travelling public.

This Bill has bipartisan support and just today the Bill was passed in the House of Representatives. It comes after lengthy consultation through my advisory group, which is chaired by Dr Martin Laverty of the Royal Flying Doctor Service, and has support throughout the aviation sector.

But this is only one piece of the puzzle.

We need more women in aviation roles.

Women currently account for only around 3% of pilots and 1% of aircraft engineers in the worldwide aviation industry.

That needs to change.

So in March I announced $4 million to better equip young women with information about careers throughout the Australian aviation industry.

This funds a range of programs to engage with women, especially school-aged students and their parents, to better understand the career opportunities in aviation.

We announced this on International Women’s Day, in the same week we announced the Western Sydney Airport will be named after aviation pioneer Nancy-Bird Walton. As Foreign Minister Marise Payne said, Nancy-Bird not only broke the glass ceiling, she flew through it!

The Liberals and Nationals also announced in this week’s Budget an increase the lifetime loan limit available to aviation students studying at a VET Student Loans (VSL) approved provider to $150,000, up from $104,440.

The higher limit comes into force from January 2020 and will help students cover the costs to complete multiple aviation courses required to be a commercial pilot. We have listened to feedback from industry and made this adjustment to help attract more people into careers in aviation.

That’s why the cap will be lifted to the same level as courses for medicine, dentistry and veterinary science.

I acknowledge there are pressures on flying training schools. I am always happy to look at what we can do better. But I do not agree with the idea that the industry is somehow dying.

CASA has recorded an increase in the number of flying schools on its register from 210 in 2012 to 235 in 2014 and now the number currently sits at 250.

This comes as the way in which we train our future airline pilots is also changing.

Previously, a young pilot would get their commercial licence and either become a flying instructor or enter the small charter sector. This would then lead to a job at a small commuter airline connecting regional centres with the capital cities in larger twin engine aircraft such as the Piper Navajo that many regional airlines operate.

But things have changed. Regional Express Airlines’ SAAB 340s, Qantas Link’s Dash-8s and Virgin’s ATR-72s now connect the country and coast to the cities.

These airlines have their own training schools designed to prepare young pilots specifically for that type of flying. Rex’s training school, the Australian Airline Pilot Academy in Wagga Wagga, has trained more than 230 pilot cadets since 2007, nearly all of whom are now flying the SAAB 340.

Qantas has announced the first of its own schools to be based in Toowoomba, like Virgin’s announcement for a flying school at Tamworth. This is the modern way of training future airline pilots and it is being replicated world-wide.

Australia’s aviation record means that when foreign airlines are looking for training grounds for their young pilots, Australia sits at the top of the list.

This is something we should embrace.

It is easy to see the economic benefit to the communities where these flying schools are located.

The pilots generally spend at least a year at the location. This means jobs in the community. It means money flowing around the economy. And it’s another option to recruit or retain skilled young people – and young families – to stay in the regions.

Despite some speculation, there is no evidence of substantial foreign ownership of regional airports and aviation training facilities – or the training of foreign pilots – and nor is it impacting the supply of pilots in the Australian market.

If flying schools, airlines and airports want to undertake training here, they play by the same rules and requirements as everyone else.

And – thanks to The Nationals in Government – the Foreign Investment Review Board was given additional powers in 2015 to investigate ownership by foreign state-owned enterprises – regardless of value – to ensure it’s in Australia’s national interest.

So the story of Australian aviation remains a good one, and one of which we should be proud.

The Liberals and Nationals will continue to support all parts of the aviation sector to thrive and as the election draws near, we will have more to say on what a re-elected Liberal and Nationals Government will do to help into the future.

But at the heart of this discussion is an Australian export creating jobs and opportunities in the bush. An industry with a bright future and bipartisan support.

And that’s something which is the envy of the world.

Michael McCormack is Deputy Prime Minister, Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development, Leader of The Nationals and Member for Riverina.

Comment on the future of aviation in Australia has been sought from Shadow Minister for Transport Anthony Albanese.

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