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Wednesday, 2 November 2011
Page: 12568

Ms LEY (Farrer) (19:19): As we all recover from the bruising Qantas dispute and as the minister reassures us that the government's 'swift and decisive action' has put the planes 'back in the air', I wish to draw his attention to the very real risk that in the future we may not have enough pilots to fly them. Imagine that the dispute is over but your service is cancelled because your pilot is out of hours. As Qantas competes for increasingly scarce revenue per available seat mile, part of the connection we feel with our national airline is that we actually have a high level of confidence in Australian aviation safety. Not only do we approve of Australian pilots but it would be a national shame if they joined the occupations in demand list.

According to the Boeing flight services 2011 current market outlook, over the next 20 years, to fly the more than 30,000 new commercial airplanes that will be added to our skies, the industry will need 460,000 pilots, which is nearly double the number flying today. We will need to add 23,000 new pilots every year for the next 20 years. The training industry will have to produce 1,200 new flying instructors next year and almost 2,000 new instructors by 2015. Who on earth will train all these people? We urgently need a plan, not just for pilots but also for instructors, and it is highly likely that we will have to look at new and different ways of teaching and learning.

As with every other industry, there is no substitute for quality training. We have to attract the right people to this career and we have to make it worth their while. Aero clubs and flight training schools around the country are closing. Canberra Airport, where I learned to fly, used to have four flying schools; now it has none. There is limited professional recognition for pilots—until you get to crew an airline. While some people can study a Bachelor of Aviation at some of our higher education facilities, for the most part there is very little academic recognition for a flying qualification. It is a tough call for a school leaver to fund themselves a professional flying qualification costing maybe $100,000, knowing that at the end of this their starting wage would be maybe $30,000 a year. Ultimately we may need to consider ways to assist young students undertake training at flying schools, to ensure we have a future stream of home-grown pilots. It is not just about recognition and money; it is also about new ways of learning, because the generation of potential young pilots may as well live on another planet. Roei Ganzarski from Boeing described the landscape perfectly. Describing Generation Y, he said:

They are born into a technologically advanced world; they are surrounded by automation; they are avid communicators; they live in social networks, and they are consummate game players. They have short attention span and little patience. They want information when they want it—

where they want it and how they want it.

What this tells me is that there are exciting opportunities in flying training for smart, IT-savvy and innovative thinkers in this country. Coupled with some clever government initiatives, we could become a world leader. We have a natural advantage in flying training. We have a good climate, not dominated by ice or snow, we have space to fly without being overwhelmed by controlled airspace or procedures, and we have a stable and welcoming market for international students. We should be training not just the next generation of Australian pilots but also pilots for the world, but we are not.

General aviation is not only stagnant but sick. In 1999 there were just over two million hours flown in the general aviation and regional airline sectors and in 2009 there were also just over two million hours flown—no change in 10 years in an industry that should be booming. The Department of Infrastructure and Transport website, as it relates to general aviation, contains a prominent link to a government report commissioned four years ago. Under 'aviation statistics' I was directed to a paper on heavy road vehicle crashes. Buried deep in the aviation white paper is a tiny section on general aviation, within which there is a smaller section titled 'Exporting flight training and other aviation related services', and in there are barely two paragraphs that touch on training, with no forward-looking strategy in sight. This government is not taking general aviation seriously, and if it is not taking general aviation seriously it is not taking flying training seriously.

While I recognise the place of airline cadet programs, they are not enough. The general aviation sector, which includes flying for search and rescue, the Flying Doctor Service, outback charter and agricultural flying, builds tough, resilient pilots who in the course of their careers are asked to make split-second decisions, unsupported by co-pilots or fancy technology. When they graduate to fly for the airlines, the travelling public can really have every confidence in their ability.