Major company pulls out of Coast after 25 years

BECKER Helicopters has signed a deal to transfer its operations to South Australia, ending a 25-year association with the Sunshine Coast.

Owner Mike Becker said the business that supported 100 families was no longer wanted at the Sunshine Coast Airport and had been told its lease would not be renewed when it was due to expire in 12 years time.

Mr Becker said he had been welcomed with open arms in South Australia, achieving in nine months what couldn't be accomplished in 10 years in south east Queensland.

The company would look to stage its departure over the next two years and was in negotiation to determine how that could be achieved.

"While we attempted to engage with local authorities in Hervey Bay, Gympie and here on the Sunshine Coast to keep our growth local, ultimately, we were not able to achieve agreements with any local council that would provide for the operating locations and conditions required to support the creation of future jobs in aerospace and aviation training on the Sunshine Coast," Mr Becker said.

"Indeed, Gympie council even conspired to remove support for helicopter operations after we had purchased land at the airport with the explicit encouragement of the Mayor of Gympie for the purposes of building an aviation academy.

"Becker Helicopters is committed to responsible flight training operations, balancing community disturbance with the benefits that we, as an employer, bring to the region.

"Our intent has been to ensure that current training operations, the 80 jobs that support it and the economic benefits and flow on's remain on the Sunshine Coast.

"However, the expansion of the Sunshine Coast Airport and the new runway places significant pressure on our operations here."

Mr Becker alleged undertakings provided by both the airport developers and Sunshine Coast Council had repeatedly been reneged on.

"It it may be the case that unless the Sunshine Coast council can present solid solutions to allow for Becker Helicopters to maintain flight training on the Sunshine Coast in a safe environment and with the support of the local community, the time will come where the Sunshine Coast no longer provides a tenable location for aviation training and the jobs that it supports will move elsewhere," he said.

"Sadly this is a common thread for general aviation in South East Queensland.

"What we were able to achieve with Lyn Breuer and Chris Cowley at Whyalla Council, Ilona Horan at DefenseSA and Jay Wetherall's Government in South Australia in one year exceeds any level of engagement that we have experienced from the Queensland Government and Sunshine Coast Councils in 23 years of operations.

"We look forward to continuing to develop this relationship as we move forwards to deliver international helicopter training to global clients from a purpose-build facility in Whyalla."

The relocation represented the creation of 80 new jobs over three years in South Australia.

The South Australian Government would support the establishment of the new base in Whyalla through the Economic Investment Fund.

The new base would deliver pilot training for military needs and international students.

It was anticipated the shift would secure South Australia 80 full time jobs, 32 additional positions through flow on and another 60 during construction of the facility.

The City of Whyalla has announced discussions were underway between Becker Helicopters, the University of South Australia and TAFE SA to create training partnerships to deliver degree-level and vocational aviation and aerospace training courses in the city.

Sunshine Coast Airport CEO Peter Pallot said Becker Helicopters had lease arrangements with Sunshine Coast Airport in both the southern and western general aviation precincts of the airport.

He said under the conditions of the EIS for the Sunshine Coast Airport Expansion Project, Sunshine Coast Airport was not able to renew helicopter leases within the southern general aviation precinct. 

"This condition assists in moving helicopter noise away from residential areas," Mr Pallot said.

"Sunshine Coast Airport continues to work with Becker Helicopters on finding alternate solutions to best meet their needs within the western general aviation precinct.

"General aviation will always play a role at Sunshine Coast Airport."

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