Whanganui's council-owned pilot academy has received an additional $150,000 as the Government moves to allow more international students into the country.
The New Zealand International Commercial Pilot Academy, based at Whanganui Airport, is owned by Whanganui District Council through its commercial arm, Whanganui District Council Holdings Limited.
Since international borders closed at the beginning of last year, the academy has consistently lobbied the Government, alongside local leaders and the wider aviation sector, to allow student pilots into the country.
In December last year the academy made three staff redundant, citing financial pressures due to a lack of international students as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
A letter from Whanganui MP Steph Lewis to Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins in April this year suggested the academy was at risk of losing its $35 million contract with Indian airline IndiGo if an exemption wasn't made.
On July 31, in an attempt to prevent the business going under with no decision on international students having yet been made, the council signed off on a $150,000 lifeline for the business.
In a statement to the Chronicle at the time, the council said a further payment of another $150,000 could be made in September on the condition the Government had made an announcement permitting international students to enter, "to enable the company to continue to operate in a solvent manner".
But 17 days after that decision, New Zealand was in lockdown battling a Covid-19 Delta outbreak and no decision was made by Cabinet on the future of international students.
On September 14, once Whanganui was back in alert level 2, a closed-door council meeting was held.
Presenting to that meeting was NZICPA chief executive Phill Bedford and council holding company chairman Declan Millin, according to the published agenda.
Councillors the Chronicle spoke with would not detail the nature of that presentation, citing confidentiality.
On September 23, nine days after the meeting, the second payment of $150,000 was made to the NZICPA via the purchase of shares, according to information released to the Chronicle following an Official Information Act request.
Council expects money back - McDouall
Meanwhile, on Friday the Ministry of Education announced the Government had agreed to allow 400 international aviation students into the country - welcome news to Whanganui mayor Hamish McDouall.
"We've been waiting for it. We understood that this was agreed by Cabinet some weeks ago.
"Obviously we won't get the full cohort of IndiGo students because we can't expect to get all 150 students in, but we will get a significant portion."
McDouall said he expected a return on the money council has put into the academy.
"It's not a grant. We anticipate a return - that it will be reimbursed and paid back over time, but it may take some years."
NZICPA chairman David Rae told the Chronicle on Friday the money was provided by the holding company to the academy in the form of a loan.
"The expectation is that this is paid back either directly, or via a dividend once the business is profitable."
In a statement, NZICPA chief executive Phill Bedford said the decision to allow additional students into the country gave the academy certainty.
"This announcement secures a significant number of jobs in the region, and puts us back on the path to growth."
The exact dates for when the students can arrive in the country are unknown, but Bedford said it's expected to be between March and June next year.