Cessnock Aerodrome has been overlooked as a contender for a regional Qantas pilot training academy – and high-flying businessman Jerry Schwartz is hardly surprised, believing council has an “anti-tourism” attitude.
Cessnock City Council lodged a submission with the NSW Government’s Office of Regional Development after Qantas announced in February that it was looking to establish a training academy in regional Australia.
More than 60 regional cities put forward a proposal and nine regional cities were selected to move to the next phase of the process – including Dubbo, Tamworth and Wagga Wagga in New South Wales; Mackay and Toowoomba in Queensland; Alice Springs (NT), Bendigo (Victoria), Busselton (WA) and Launceston in Tasmania.
A response from Regional NSW Department of Premier and Cabinet stated that Cessnock council was not rated as being able to quickly meet all of the criteria for selection as a site for the training academy.
The response was tabled at council’s June 20 meeting and council resolved to request further information on why Cessnock did not meet the criteria.
“It’s important that we know, so we can add whatever improvements are needed so we don’t miss out down the track,” councillor Melanie Dagg said.
Jerry Schwartz, the owner of Cessnock Aerodrome’s Blue Sky Airways, said while he applauded Cessnock Council’s bid for the academy, he wasn’t surprised it had been knocked back.
Dr Schwartz, who also owns Crowne Plaza Hunter Valley at Lovedale, said he thinks the “negative attitudes” shown to his proposals to upgrade the airport's facilities and council’s “general anti-tourism attitude” is at the heart of the reason why Qantas didn't consider Cessnock as a possibility for its academy.
“The Hunter Valley has so much potential to grow its air capacity. It was recently announced that Newcastle would be expanding services to include direct international flights, and we have been advocating strongly for an expansion of Cessnock air capabilities to provide increased direct access into the Hunter,” Dr Schwartz said.
“We applauded Cessnock Council’s bid for the Qantas academy and their stated enthusiasm to expand air services, but all their actions suggest otherwise.”
Blue Sky Airways’ proposal to construct an aircraft hangar at Cessnock Aerodrome was knocked back in April 2017.
A council spokesperson said the application was refused due to “insufficient information being submitted to allow a full assessment”, including inability to gain owner’s consent to engage in a Section 88b easement for right of carriageway over an adjoining property, and inability to gain owner’s consent for works required over adjoining land.
Blue Sky Airways chief pilot Toby Dorn said there wasn’t “any real justification” for the hangar to be refused.
Mr Dorn said they were told the hangar needed access through the fence to join onto the existing taxiway, but that they were not allowed to have access because it is a security risk to the airport.
“The absurd part of this is that a couple of hundred metres along the fence near the main apron there is a gate with absolutely nothing to stop the general public walking on to the airport 24 hours a day,” he said.
"In recent weeks we have at least had a breakthrough and been allowed a man-sized gate so that we can at least walk from our offices onto the airport – rather than the long way round via the aforementioned public gate.
“Unfortunately, all our attempts at boosting the potential of the airport for aviation activities have been blocked by council on what we consider are mostly very flimsy grounds.
“We have great support for our seaplane service – which is now up and running – from both the public and tourism operators in the Hunter Valley, but unfortunately not from our local council.”