‘Send in the top guns’

A GROUP of Latrobe City councillors fear the region’s bid to manufacture the GA18 aircraft has been seriously jeopardised. 

While Latrobe Regional Airport is home to Australia’s only aircraft manufacturer GippsAero, construction of its long-awaited 18-seat plane is not guaranteed to go ahead on Valley soil.

According to council, Melbourne’s Avalon Airport has been floated as one of the possible contenders for the project.

As such, council will send a delegation of two senior managers to India in March as part of the State Government’s ‘Super Trade Mission’, where they also plan to meet privately with GippsAero’s parent company Mahindra Aerospace to argue the region’s case.

But councillor Darrell White fears sending anyone other than council chief executive Paul Buckley and mayor Sandy Kam could be interpreted as apathy.

“It’s absolutely critical we have our highest order representatives,” Cr White said.

“We need to send clear signals that we’re doing our utmost to sway them.

The community is pinning its hopes on the project going ahead in the Latrobe Valley as it could create more than 150 jobs in a time of economic uncertainty.

“One of the key imperatives for us as a municipality is to continuously strive for diversity and job mix and here’s a golden opportunity and we’re not giving it our absolute best shot,” Cr White said.

He said while the senior managers were capable of engaging with Mahindra, Mr Buckley had an already well-established relationship with the company.

“The CEO is the chair of the Latrobe Regional Airport board and as a result has been intimately involved in sensitive discussions and negotiations with senior Mahindra representatives,” Cr White said.

Cr White’s bid to change council’s decision failed at Monday night’s meeting, but gained support from councillors Christine Sindt, Graeme Middlemiss, Darrell White and Kellie O’Callaghan.

Mayor Sandy Kam said she did not share their fears.

“This isn’t the only meeting we’re going to have with Mahindra,” she said.

“Rest assured we’re going to do everything in our power to convince Mahindra that this is the best place to manufacture the aircraft.”

Cr Kam said with skilled personnel and a history of plane manufacturing, the Latrobe Valley’s was the “only bid they should consider”.

Latrobe Regional Airport and GippsAero have received millions of dollars in government funding towards the development of the GA18.

Cr Dale Harriman said he had asked Mahindra “what more council could do” to secure the project and was told it had done “everything it needed to”.

In a statement GippsAero chief executive Terry Miles said the company was “running a specific information gathering program to ensure fair assessment of the opportunities each state can bring to the table for GA18,” given it was “a large investment for several years to come”.

The manufacturer has previously produced eight-seater and 10-seater aircrafts.