• Victorian MLC Gordon Rich-Phillips. (Steve Hitchen)
    Victorian MLC Gordon Rich-Phillips. (Steve Hitchen)

Victorian MLC Gordon Rich-Phillips has blamed the state Labor government for causing the shutdown of Melbourne's flight training industry and says it has a responsibility to provide support to keep flight training organisations (FTO) open.

The stage 4 COVID-19 restrictions placed on the Melbourne metro area and eastern local government areas have caused flight training to be placed on hold, but FTOs are struggling with a loss of revenue and little help from the state and federal governments.

FTOs are reporting incomes as low as 3% of pre-COVID levels, which is placing the future viability of many at risk. Most of them are on the Jobkeeper scheme, but that money goes to employees and can't be used to repay loans or airport rents.

Industry attempts to engage the state government on the matter have met with little success.

"The state government should be providing more support," Rich-Phillip said in response to Australian Flying's questions.

"The shutdown of virtually all businesses in Victoria was a policy choice of the Andrews Labor Government. It didn’t have to take that path, and many other states and countries handled their COVID outbreaks without shutting everything down. 

"Having made the conscious decision to shutdown most businesses it has a responsibility to support them to re-open and repair the damage the government caused. This applies equally to pilot training as it does to other businesses that were forced to close."

Rich-Phillips, a member of the Victorian upper house, was Minister responsible for the Aviation Industry 2010-14 under the previous Coalition government. During that time, the government provided funding for aviation training in the state and Rich-Phillips wants to see that restored.

"As Minister for Aviation I secured $4.5m for investment in aviation education, training and promotion," he pointed out. "That funding was cancelled by the incoming Labor Government in 2015 and it should be reinstated."

With Victoria accounting for 24% of all commercial pilots trained in 2019, there is a fear that the loss of capability caused by a permanent collapse of training in Melbourne will impact Australia's ability to react to a projected shortage of airline pilots.

"We won’t really know for 6-12 months what and where the demand for scheduled services and thus pilots actually is," Rich-Phillips said. "However, we need to be prepared so as to avoid pilot shortages like were occurring before COVID."

As a CPL, aircraft owner and former re-fueler himself, Rich-Phillips has a greater understanding of the role of general aviation than many of his parliamentary colleagues, and in his comments has echoed an industry call for governments to support the sector and  being vital to the recovery of the airlines.

"Aviation is enabling infrastructure in the same way as roads, railways and telecommunications are, and the federal government has a role to play in ensuring that it is sustainable. The support provided at the airline level is welcome, and support for general aviation level would also be welcomed.

"As Minister for Aviation I was able to deliver a number of programs to support Victoria’s aviation industry such as the $20m Regional Aviation Fund and the $4.5m support for education and training mentioned above.

"As Shadow Minister I don’t have the power to deliver programs; however, I remain committed to being an advocate for Victorian aviation."

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