AN AMBITIOUS plan to build a flight school for budding Chinese pilots at Frogs Hollow was discussed at an on-site meeting on Saturday.
The directors of Sports Aviation Australia (SAA) met with existing property owners Eric and Pat Johnston as well as former Deputy Premier of NSW and current Member for Oxley Andrew Stoner at the Frogs Hollow air field south of Bega.
Drew Done, president of the Frogs Hollow Flyers aero club – which has been using the facility for around 25 years – was also in attendance. (Frogs Hollow Flyers caught by surprise, click here)
The proposal involves developing a flight school for Chinese students seeking a recreational pilot’s licence.
China is in the process of deregulating its airspace, opening it up to recreational flying, and SAA believes the time is ripe for a development of this type.
The proposal itself is not modest.
On the ground it involves realigning the runway, including taxiways, constructing a function building and office space, and building new hangars, workshops and assembly areas.
There will also be self-contained accommodation blocks for the student pilots that comprise their own kitchen and laundry facilities, with on-site water, waste water and electricity generation services.
For the main, all buildings will be modular and developed in stages, with stage one and the first squadron of students expected to be “on campus” by December this year.
All up, it will build to be a $30million development said project consultant Norm Boyle.
However, that is all dependent on council approval, with the board of directors deciding on Saturday to forge ahead and lodge a development application as soon as possible.
The proposal has support in high places, with Mr Stoner calling it “a fantastic plan with massive potential”.
“I’ve been incredibly impressed with this proposal,” Mr Stoner said on Saturday.
“It’s a realistic and achievable plan.
“The demand is there – this is a winner.
“I want to see this be a winner for the reasons I got into politics in the first place,” he said of his interest in regional development and burgeoning trade links.
When speaking with Fairfax Media, Mr Stoner said the only missing element at this stage was customers and cash flow.
“China can be difficult – it’s about knowing the right people and making the right connections,” he said.
“Customers are the key – getting the cash flow brings further investment.”
Mr Stoner said the ideal investor would be someone who is not just in it for a return, but who can see some strategic advantage in what is proposed for Frogs Hollow.
He said he was happy to see the Federal Government recently tighten up its foreign investment rules, but said, despite fear over foreign investment in Australian land, Chinese involvement is “as little as two or three per cent”.
“The reality of farmland in NSW is the Middle East has a much larger share,” Mr Stoner said.
“They bought a lot of sheep and wheat belt country, with all those individual purchases under the radar – but together it’s massive.”
He said he has had considerable dealings with the Chinese through his time in politics and as Minister for Trade and Investment, and had some advice for would be foreign investors.
“I’d be telling them ‘don’t come in and want 100 per cent’,” Mr Stoner said.
“Go into a joint venture and everyone will love you.”
Mr Boyle said the company, SAA, has signed an option to purchase Mr Johnston’s land, with the option to expire on June 30.
He said equity investment was in place to get stage one up and running and they would be taking the offering into China for investors once council approval was gained.
On that front he said most of the work had been done and masterplans developed.
After Saturday’s site inspection by the board of directors, he has been given the go-ahead to lodge a formal DA with Bega Valley Shire Council.
“Now we are getting all our ducks in a row,” Mr Boyle said.
“It’s a staged development with operational profits from the early stages going back into the project.”
Squadrons assemble for 12-week syllabus
THE proposed Sports Aviation Australia flight school at Frogs Hollow is proposed to eventually involve 10 “squadrons” of 36 Chinese student pilots each.
Each squadron – named for various native fauna - will have its own self-contained accommodation facility on site as well as its own minders and instructors.
Each student will undergo a seven-week course of world-recognised Berlitz aviation English language, before five weeks of recreational flight and theory training.
The course fee will include return flights to China, student visas, all required learning materials, SAA-branded flight suit, meals and accommodation, membership to Recreational Aviation Australia and a recreational pilot’s licence, and several cultural fun days to experience Australia.
The planes they will fly will be fitted with GoPro cameras, and their recreational days will be filmed, so they can share their experiences back home in China.