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Closure Of L3 Airline Academy And The Wider Industry Impact

“We are bitterly disappointed to learn that one of the World’s leading pilot training companies, L3 Airline Academy, is to close its Hamilton operation in February next year,” said Aviation NZ Chief Executive, John Nicholson.

The possibility of this happening was raised with the Government back in May. The impact is much broader than just L3. We have tried to work with the Government since then to address the problems created for the pilot training industry with border policy. An initial allocation of 440 visas to be used over six months would have saved the whole pilot training industry including L3.

The pilot training industry has grown considerably since then Prime Minister Helen Clark opened a purpose built facility in 2005 as CTC Aviation (now L3 Airline Academy). It put New Zealand firmly on the international training map. International promotion of New Zealand’s training capability accelerated and the increasingly professional industry was able to leverage off the credibility associated with the CTC brand.

L3 and several other trainers gained approval from overseas regulators to train to their licences in New Zealand. Overseas regulators only give such approvals after a rigorous examination of the training capabilities of the companies concerned. It also reflects their confidence in the New Zealand regulatory system.

This year, the international pilot training industry is expected to generate around $51m in foreign exchange earnings with economic activity exceeding $226m, mostly in regional New Zealand. The industry employs over 380 staff and has 225 flight instructors, with an asset value approximating $100m.

Unfortunately, the Government, in not allowing high value pilot students into New Zealand, is saying that these export earnings, this economic activity, the employment of New Zealanders and the preservation of the valuable intellectual property sitting in many of the trainers, matters.

Pilot training is high value training for New Zealand. The average international student pays annual tuition fees of $80,000, spends up to 18 months in New Zealand and goes home on the completion of training to employment in airlines. Pilot training fits the Government strategy for international education, and fits existing criteria for skilled worker border exemptions. Also, many of the students wanting to come here are from China and Vietnam, countries that have done well with Covid.

‘In refusing to address the issues which have resulted in this unfortunate announcement from L3, the Government continues to put the rest of the industry at risk’’ said Nicholson.

The aviation industry knows a lot about risk management and managing risk. As an industry, we are committed to safety. If some other types of student and skilled workers can safely enter New Zealand, we should also be able to allow international pilot students in, under the same criteria.

New Zealand’s success with Covid, the quality of training provided and our great environment for training make us attractive to international airlines. In September, 394 international students had signed up to train in New Zealand, a number had visas but none were able to enter the country.

Interest in training in New Zealand has increased since September. Given the country’s success with Covid and the top quality training provided, several airlines are looking to come here, to move away from their traditional training partners. But they will not wait and wait.

“New Zealand has a unique and strategic advantage right now: airlines knocking on our door, and our having the ability to train so many future airline leaders, has not existed before this year,” said Nicholson.

Training schools report strong interest from New Zealand students to start training in 2021. These students are looking at long term career options. Unfortunately, the economics of training New Zealand students are compromised if 70% of their students, international students, cannot train here.

“Urgent action is needed by the Government to allow international aviation students into the country, and to ensure the continuation of the pilot training industry. It was established over 100 years ago but and remains just as relevant to the global aviation industry of tomorrow”, concluded Nicholson.

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