Funds needed to secure aero project

AN ambitious Gippsland project could play into the hands of foreign investors if funding is not secured to guarantee its establishment in the region.

The significance of the manufacturing of GA18 aircraft by Gippsland Aeronautics has attracted the interest of international and interstate parties, sources told The Express.

Although the project has already received $2 million in funding from the State Government and Latrobe City Council, only a “much more competitive investment” will secure the project’s future in the region, according to GippsAero founding director George Morgan.

In an exclusive interview with The Express, Mr Morgan restated the significance of the project and its potential to create more than 200 jobs in the region.

“We’re in a world market competitive business; not only are other states lobbying to get the investment (of this project), but so are other countries,” Mr Morgan said.

“My aim is to build it here, but the only way that is not going to happen is if the government and other groups don’t get behind it.”

Mahindra Aerospace – which owns 70 per cent of shares in the company has already invested “an excess of $20 million into our economy”, according to Mr Morgan who added, “so there is pressure from the board”.

“Mahindra always put pressure on us… they’re a fair corporation but they want the best deal,” he said.

“Their thinking is reasonable – the local economy will benefit from this so how about some co-investment.”

When addressing the possibility of external players vying for the project, Mr Morgan confirmed “Avalon airport via the Victorian Government have expressed an interest”.

However, Avalon airport chief executive Justin Giddings said while “no agreement has been made”, the aiport would be “a good site for the project”.

“I can’t really see it happening (in Avalon) at the moment… so my hunch is it will probably be staying in Gippsland,” Mr Giddings said.

Sources believe the Queensland Government could also be interested in the manufacturing of GA18 aircraft at its local airbase.

While the Queensland Government was unable to comment as a result of being in caretaker mode, the possibility of the project being undertaken in Brisbane was floated by the Brisbane Airport Corporation.

“We are always interested in attracting new business and are regularly responding to enquiries from companies and organisations on this subject,” Brisbane Airport Corporation government and public affairs manager Rebecca Masci said.

“We would certainly be interested in attracting new aviation manufacturing projects.”

Brisbane Airport Corporation’s interest in the GA18 project was not confirmed by Mr Morgan, but a Mahindra Aerospace spokesman said the company were “hopeful that a solution for local production of the GA18 can be found”.

“We are now at a critical point in the production planning, and in order to deliver new aircraft according to project timelines, a decision for new production facilities is required before end June 2012,” the spokesman said.

“Capital funding for the establishment of new production facilities for the GA18 have not yet been identified and thus Latrobe Regional Airport (GippsAero’s landlord) is seeking funds to expand current facilities to ensure the production of the GA18 remains at the airport.”

Latrobe City Council has identified GippsAero as its top priority and is currently seeking $3 million from the second round of Regional Development Australia Fund.

Federal Member for Gippsland Darren Chester said he was strongly supportive of LRA’s bids, adding he had raised LRA’s application to the RDAF in parliament.

“Latrobe Regional Airport is critical to local commercial, recreational and emergency aviation services,” Mr Chester said.

“Improving infrastructure to allow GippsAero’s expansion will also boost employment and secure new investment in the Gippsland aviation industry.”