Aviation New Zealand is putting a case to the Government to authorise 575 visas for international pilot students, starting in July this year.
The visas could be a lifesaver for the New Zealand International Commercial Pilot Academy (NZICPA) in Whanganui, and the country's 11 other flight schools.
They would be for high-value pilot trainees, who spend around $80,000 a year on their tuition, Aviation New Zealand chief executive John Nicholson said.
The NZICPA, owned by Whanganui District Council Holdings, needs a continued supply of international students. After border restrictions slowed its growth, it had to make three staff redundant in December last year.
It currently had about 80 students, board chairman David Rae said.
The number was projected to grow to around 200 after signing a contract with Indian airline IndiGo. The airline was to send 25 students for training every three months, with each staying 15 months and a total of 125 students here at any time.
As things stand, 54 will finish their studies at the end of July. Of those, 24 are from IndiGo and another 28 are from India.
However, Covid-19 has thrown a spanner in the works.
Since Covid-19 closed New Zealand's border, the NZICPA has provided online learning to IndiGo cadets unable to leave India. About 80 have completed it and want to come to New Zealand for air training.
The timing could not be worse. Covid-19 has been so rife in India that, from April 29, it is one of four countries from which only New Zealand citizens and their immediate family members are allowed into New Zealand.
The Aviation New Zealand case has been submitted to Government officials, who will prepare a paper for Government ministers, Nicholson said. A meeting with Transport Minister Michael Wood is planned for mid-May.
The proposal was timely, because hundreds of managed isolation and quarantine rooms were being freed up as the Australia/New Zealand travel bubble opens.
The proposal to the Government must be made under the critical worker border exception system, Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi said. But large groups put stress on managed isolation and quarantine facilities, he added.
Allowing new arrivals must be balanced with permitting New Zealand citizens to return home, he said. Proposals will be judged on economic, social and humanitarian grounds.
International students are being admitted to New Zealand under two classes, one for PhD students and one for others.
So far, 672 of a potential 1250, international students have been told they can return to New Zealand. The Education Minister's support will be needed for Aviation New Zealand's proposal to admit pilot students.
Meanwhile, there was a high demand from India and other Asian countries for pilot training, Nicholson said.
In 2020 New Zealand earned $51 million in fees from international pilot students, and 359 people were employed to provide tuition. Having the students here generated $226m in economic activity, mostly in regional New Zealand.
In June 2020, 651 students were in training. By December 2021 that number could drop to 22 as the students graduate and return home.