Gunnedah Shire Council has agreed “in principle” to reimburse airport landing fees which threatened to shatter flying dreams of aspiring local pilots.
The Chris Middlebrook Flying Scholarship assists young people in Gunnedah gain their pilot’s licence. But there was concern new landing fees imposed by council would mean students were slugged an extra $180 during each lesson.
Scholarship provider Peter Middlebrook said the fees had potential to “seriously impact” the funds available for students’ training.
After a brief presentation by Mr Middlebrook at last week’s ordinary meeting, Gunnedah council resolved to reimburse actual landing fees up to the value of $4000 per year for each scholarship student.
“I’m not against landing fees…. I just hope the scholarships help get kids into aviation,” Mr Middlebrook told the meeting.
I just hope the scholarships help get kids into aviation.Pilot scholarship founder, Peter Middlebrook
Due to the strength of this year’s entrants, two scholarship recipients in Lachlan Batinic and Ryan King were selected.
“They're keen as mustard, both very studious with their studies,” Mr Middlebrook said.
The duo was this week preparing for maiden solo flights – part of a two-year, 30-hour flying quota undertaken by each student.
Mr Middlebrook thanked council for its support of the local initiative which otherwise would have been crippled by landing fee charges.
“It was going to devalue the scholarship by 40 per cent,” he said. “It’s great that council is playing a part with assistance.”
The scholarship was not linked to any specific area of the aviation industry, but the early training which the scholarship offered, put local students in good stead as many pursued careers with the air force and commercial airlines.
But what was desperately needed was more agricultural-based airmen and women.
“There is certainly a shortage in ag pilots,” he said. “There’s more planes than pilots at the moment.”
Mr Middlebrook said it was unfortunate many flying careers were determined by job security.
“[Air force and commercial] are far more secure as an industry,” he said.
Former scholarship recipients include Gunnedah’s Zac Crowhurst, who in 2012 accepted one of Mr Middlebrook’s first offers to learn to fly. Subsequent beneficiaries include Kayla Smith and Lachlan McArthur.
The flying scholarship is named in memory of Peter’s son Chris who was killed nearly two decades ago doing what he loved, flying planes.
In addition to his council address, Mr Middlebrook also penned a letter to council earlier this year seeking exemption from landing fees.
“We understand council’s reason for landing fees at Gunnedah Airport,” the letter said, “but we would appreciate you looking favourably on excepting students… to encourage them in their endeavours to become competent young pilots...”
The NVI reported in July when council resolved to introduce landing fees of $12.50 per tonne for the next 12 months.
The decision received support from the Gunnedah Aero Club which agreed fees should be introduced.