Wagga has just been announced as a top contender for a new pilot training school set to open its doors next year.
More than 60 regional centres across the nation put forward a bid for Qantas’s new training academy, however, come Friday morning, only nine cities made it to the aviation giant’s final shortlist.
This follows weeks of speculation over where the new flight school would be situated.
Among the other top contenders from NSW were Dubbo and Tamworth, with Bendigo, Alice Springs, Toowoomba, Mackay, Launceston, and Busselton making up the remainder of Wagga’s competition.
The new pilot training academy has been pitched as a response to Australia’s pilot shortage, with recent estimates suggesting the global aviation industry will need about 640,000 new pilots in the next 20 years to keep up with demand.
Regional centres and state governments were invited to pitch their cities to Qantas last month, with uncontested airspace, clear weather, and the necessary infrastructure to support a potential influx of students making up the key criteria.
With a shortlist now prepared, Qantas management is expected to visit Wagga and the other eight top contenders in the next few weeks, before making its final decision in a couple of months’ time.
If the city’s application is successful, Mayor Greg Conkey said he is confident the council will do whatever it takes to make room in its budget to get the project up and running.
“If we pick up this academy, it involves 500 training pilots per year, so we'll certainly bend over backwards to assist in any way that we can,” Cr Conkey said.
“We're spending $6 million to upgrade the taxiways out at the airport, which will go a long way to support this academy if we're successful.”
Cr Conkey said his team had also been working closely with Charles Sturt University in the lead up to the announcement.
“CSU will be very much involved – they have some capacity out here on their campus that will be able to accommodate the academy if Wagga is the successful city chosen,” he said.
“They have a fairly large building out here, which I believe is available for that, accommodation will need to be looked at as well, and I understand the state government is looking at contributing $5 million towards the successful bid.”
While it will still be a number of months until the successful city is announced, local leaders were feeling confident on Friday about Wagga’s chances.
Local MP Daryl Maguire said he beliebed Wagga was just as attractive a destination for the new academy as the other shortlisted locations.
“I'd say we are more than a match for them,” Mr Maguire said.
”It's competitive, that's the nature of the game, but you shouldn't shy away from a fight, and we certainly won't.”
With Wagga’s status as one of Australia’s biggest defence training hubs, a new pilot training academy could also open up new opportunities for the city’s local air force base.
Qantas’ pilot academy executive manager, Wes Nobelius, said he hoped the new training academy would generate these sorts of benefits that reached further than the airline itself.
“Training on this scale represents a commercial opportunity for Qantas, but it’s also about contributing to a talent pipeline that we rely on for more senior pilots down the track,” Mr Nobelius said.
“These graduates might fly for other airlines, join the defence force, or be part of services like the Royal Flying Doctors.”