It would be "tragic" if Covid-19 killed Whanganui's new flight school - and the district's mayor and MP should be doing more to get it students, Whanganui district councillor Rob Vinsen says.
However, Whanganui mayor Hamish McDouall and the board that runs the New Zealand International Commercial Pilot Academy (NZICPA) say they're doing everything they can to seek help from the Government.
"[The flight school] was just looking the best thing I have seen for Whanganui while I have been on council," Vinsen said.
But three staff members at the NZICPA were made redundant in December, as student numbers dwindled due to Covid-19 restrictions closing the country to international students.
Vinsen said Hawke's Bay mayors took a delegation to Parliament and got 2000 fruit pickers into New Zealand despite the closed border. He's disappointed with the response of McDouall and Whanganui MP Steph Lewis.
"I think this is the first test for the new MP to pass," he said.
But the flight school is owned by Whanganui District Council Holdings, and chairwoman Annette Main said everything possible was being done to get the students into New Zealand.
'We are talking to all the right people and making sure all the information is on the desk of those involved," Main said.
"It's so critical, but we understand it can't happen until it's safe for New Zealand to do so."
McDouall said he started lobbying in mid-2020, speaking with then-Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway. After the election he talked to Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi and Health Minister Chris Hipkins.
In early December he talked to Economic Development Minister Stuart Nash, who was also briefed by Lewis. Those ministers are in Cabinet now, and will lobby for the school.
Getting students in shouldn't be seen as simply an education matter, McDouall said.
"This is no different from fruit pickers in Hawke's Bay or Ukrainian fishermen. It's a business."
It would be a "massive shame" if the NZICPA suffered in the Covid situation, McDouall said, but saving lives is more important.
The academy is run by a Whanganui District Council Holdings board, chaired by David Rae.
He said the school now has 81 flying students, with eight New Zealand diploma students who started last week. There are 80 students enrolled in India and waiting to come to Whanganui.
If they can't get here and numbers continue to drop, more restructuring will happen, Rae said.
"We are sizing the school for the number of students we will end up with."
The real crunch will come in May when students who started just before the March 2020 lockdown finish their studies.
Ministers Hipkins, Faafoi and Nash are all briefed, and the school's chief executive Phill Bedford is working closely with Lewis, Rae said. Aviation New Zealand and Education New Zealand have also been involved.
He couldn't envisage much more help.
"We are very pleased with the support from the council and from Steph Lewis."
Covid-19 has set the school back one or two years, he said. He believes there is still plenty of demand long-term for pilot training and NZICPA is in final stage approval for another contract with a major South East Asian airline.
Lewis has been contacted for comment.