A Wagga pilot academy has issued a mayday call to the NSW government amid fears overseas students unable to get into Australia due to international travel restrictions will look to train elsewhere.
Regional Express' Australian Airline Pilot Academyhas struggled to make ends meet since the COVID-19 pandemic began due to its heavy reliance on international students.
The academy has just escalated its fight for survival from general discussions about the issue to a detailed quarantine arrangement proposal that would allow students into the country.
With Australia's borders closed to the rest of the world, and its key market in Vietnam off limits, the academy has not had a new student since February last year.
Head of the academy Chris Hines said they had been in discussions with relevant authorities since December, but no headway had been made until the past few days.
"We've essentially gone from just discussions to now submitting a detailed and specific proposal outlining a quarantine arrangement for international students to come to our Wagga-based academy," Mr Hines said.
"So it's moved beyond just a general concept to show how it can be achieved safely."
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Mr Hines said the proposal would see international students tested for the virus before coming to Australia. Once here, they would quarantine in a completely separate building at the academy for 14 days.
"We would only be looking at a maximum of 30-35 students, so it's a small cohort that we would also be happy to reduce just to have the opportunity to prove the concept is safe and can work," he said.
"My understanding is that the proposal is currently with the NSW government crisis committee, and is working its way through to the health department, but I am confident they understand how important this is and we hope it is viewed favourably."
The situation is growing more dire as the days go on, according to Mr Hines, who said they feared the international market would begin to look elsewhere.
"Our major trading partner is Vietnam, and we just heard that students are now formerly talking about other options for training such as America, and that's exactly what we feared would happen," he said.
"We aren't like a major university who can still survive off the local students until international students return, the international market is our key market and without it, Wagga would see major job losses and lack of income from these students."
Wagga MP Joe McGirr said Rex's proposal appeared to be comprehensive and he believed it posed very little risk to the community.
"The facility is important for the local economy and for the reputation of the city, and the Rex group, which operates the pilot academy, is a critical provider of transport to regional areas," he said.
"I raised the pilot training school's proposal with Deputy Premier John Barilaro again this week.
"I also spoke with Mr Barilaro about whether the proposal could be developed along the lines of a regionally-based quarantine hub for overseas agricultural workers, which has been suggested by NSW Minister for Agriculture, Adam Marshall."
Mr Hines said he was appreciative of the support so far from government bodies, and hoped "common sense would prevail".
"The support we have gotten from our local member and other government personnel has been exceptional, they have been incredibly understanding and supportive, so I only hope that support continues otherwise our plight will get a lot harder," he said.
The detailed proposal is set to be presented to the relevant departments in the next few days, with Mr Hines hoping to have contact on the issue by early next week.
"All we are asking is for an open discussion, any step forward is a good step," Mr Hines said.