Purpose-built building to train pilots is coming

By john.maslin@wanganuichronicle.co.nz

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Wanganui Airport
Wanganui Airport

The green light has been given to construct a purpose-built facility for the commercial pilot training school training school coming to Whanganui.

The district council has given its unanimous support for a new building at the city's airport to house both planes and students of the flight academy that's due to be operating here from early next year.

Whanganui District Council Holdings Ltd, which manages council's commercial assets and manages its investments, bought Flight Training Manawatu in October last year with the aim of relocating the school to Whanganui's airport.

It will be known officially as the NZ International Commercial Pilot Academy Ltd (NZICPA) and will be housed in a new building to be constructed next door to the secure parking area and the western end of the airport.

Matt Doyle, Holdings chairman, said in terms of financing the project the options to fund the building could be either from the city's endowment fund or by Holdings borrowing the required amount.

No detail of the cost will be available until after tenders have been let.

Mr Doyle said the building will provide secure cover for at least five aircraft, rooms for teaching some 30-40 long-term students, along with about 15 contracted instructors and five permanent staff. There will also be an area dedicated for administration and other space for lectures and academic study, flying training and simulation training.

He said the arrival of the flight academy will provide guaranteed and regular revenue for the airport at a time when that revenue base was prone to changes in Government and airlines' policies.

Mr Doyle said the academy was bought with a view to building the airport's viability and securing what is regarded as key strategic asset for the district.

He said at the time of the purchase the airport was not meeting its costs "and as a result is a constant cost to the ratepayers".

"The growth of business such as the flight academy, both in terms of lease and landing fee income at the airport, will go a long way to reducing this cost and assist in sustaining the airport into the future."

Future plans for the academy would aim to increase recruiting from international markets with a target of having 70 or more students.

At the moment half the roll is made up of Indians with other students from Papua New Guinea and Tahiti. And there were opportunities to attract students from South East Asia, China and the Pacific.

"The benefit to the local economy will be in the order of $7 million annually, inclusive of student fees, student and staff living expenditure and the company's operating expenditure," Mr Doyle said. "The business is profitable and has been for a number of years. This also reflects on the level of compliance the business achieves in respect to its obligations, particularly under the Civil Aviation Act."

He said the academy provided the potential to kick-start airport development, secure funding at a sustainable level for the future and, in the medium to long term, achieve nil rates revenue in the provision of airport services for the community.

He said Holdings had been briefing other airport users to keep them up to date with the training school and that included the Wanganui Aero Club.

Mr Doyle said the aero club had expressed some concern about the impact the flight academy might have on its operation.

"We've talked them and simply reinforced the point of difference between their operation and what that training school will provide.

"We're schooling these kids for careers as skilled commercial aviators. If you want to learn to fly recreationally then the aero club is where you go."

"But we believe having the training school at the airport will in fact benefit the aero club. It should generate interest in flying but we will stress that point of difference," he said.Mayor Annette Main, council CEO Kym Fell and Mr Doyle have been given authority to work through the detail including final design, costings and financing.

- Wanganui Chronicle

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